During the last year of preparing for and taking comprehensive exams and writing a dissertation proposal, I haven’t indulged in much “pleasure reading.” So when offered a chance to read and review a copy of Sarah Cunningham’s new spiritual memoir, “Picking Dandelions: A Search For Eden Among Life’s Weeds” for her Blog Tour, I took it.* I am not lacking in unread books (they are piled in teetering stacks all around me), but I thought it would be a nice change of pace. And my upbringing has some parallels with the author’s – both of us born in the Midwest (she’s from Michigan, I’m from Ohio), daughters of pastors, deeply involved in church life from childhood on. (Of course, there were wee little differences, as well: her pastor-father and church community were conservative Baptist, and mine liberal-leaning Lutheran.)
Cunningham’s writing is crisp and entertaining, and her humor gently self-deprecating. She gleans her spiritual insights from the most mundane moments, but that doesn’t make them mundane insights. “My faith, I knew, often just sat there, unused in the container of my body, putrid like water no one had stirred in years, and an equally unappealing discovery. I began to think of myself as a museum. A terrible, obsolete, and tiresome museum that was nothing more than a stiff, shellacked collection of Sunday school prizes and witnessing bracelets from the 1980s.” The final third of the book is an alternately amusing and touching account of Cunningham’s efforts to identify and modify those parts of herself most in need of change. She enlists friends and family to help her take inventory of her character flaws (surely she gets points for bravery?), and then sets out to eliminate each one (the flaws, not the friends). Pride, for example, she tackles on her spring break, when she has time to really focus on it – diligently journaling each episode. “I write my latest prideful thoughts down and experience a small surge of pride for being so self-aware and willing to change. So I write that thought down too. And I wonder if this will ever end.” But it’s not just flaws that need constant tending and monitoring. She realizes that her faith life is an ongoing process, too – an “ongoing choice to follow God,” not just one childhood moment of conversion. She’s a bit more deeply reflective in these final chapters, and they are probably the most thoughtful in the book.
*My copy was provided by Zondervan books, but with no pressure for a positive review!