Elizabeth Esther is a blogger I've followed for years. While I don't always agree with her, I appreciate the way she consistently makes me think.
For that reason, I was excited to read Elizabeth's memoir, Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future. Even so, having often heard Elizabeth describe her experience in fundamentalism as a cult, I was unsure as to whether or not I'd find her story relatable.
Rest assured, it was.
Elizabeth's story is one filled with universal truths about the desire to search for and find an authentic, working faith.
I found myself nodding in agreement as I read her observation that “the only thing I am learning from Modesty Awareness is how to have a harsh, critical view of my body.”
In the same way, I found myself in tears as she described the agony of leaving The Assembly. According to her, “The Assembly was my faith, my family, and my friends. Leaving The Assembly was like leaving an entire way of life. When church is everything, leaving feels like a horrible, unimaginable divorce. We feel as if we're abandoning our homeland and entering another culture as an immigrant.” As a young youth worker, I remember feeling this way when things at my first congregation went horribly wrong and I found myself leaving the place that had become my identity after only a year.
I also appreciated Elizabeth's insights into Catholicism, including how “I begin to wonder if I've never felt close to Mary because I've been trained to look elsewhere.” How true this is of faith in general. Often we miss encountering God simply because like Elizabeth, we've been “trained to look elsewhere.”
For Elizabeth, one of the draws to Catholicism – the tradition in which she eventually found a faith with a future – was that it embraced mystery. According to her, “They have this deep reverence for the mysteries of life and the ways of God. There's room to breathe, you know?”
And perhaps that, more than anything else, is the universal takeaway of this book.
Faith is, by nature, mysterious. In many liturgies we even say, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
It is, after all, in the mysterious that we often encounter God, who cannot be reduced to cheesy formulas or boxes with rigid walls.
Elizabeth's story reminds us of the importance of this... And of the danger of churches that claim to have all the answers.