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God Between the Covers:
Finding Faith through Reading

by Marcia Ford
Crossroad Publishing, 2005

review by John Tintera

If you’re a spiritual person looking for affirmation of your bibliomania or your hyperlexia, then you’ll find what you’re seeking in Marcia Ford’s new book. Based on the premise that there’s no safer or more satisfying route to enlightenment than the practice of book reading, Ford charts the books that have most impacted her faith journey.

Book freaks like Marcia Ford know that a good book is akin to a character in a biblical genealogy, begetting not one other book, but a whole library. And like the wanderings of Abraham or the Israelites in the desert, bibliophiles understand that a spiritual journey based on books is one where the promised land is often present (provided one is in the midst of a good book) and always just one more trip to Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com away.

There have been spiritual memoirs written by alcoholics, criminal politicians, and professional football stars, but this is perhaps the first written by a professional book reviewer. I mention this because God Between the Covers is more than just an annotated index to spiritual must-reads—it is the confessions (in the Augustinian sense) of a woman who has never ceased to find faith, guidance, and a sense of the divine in books. Speaking of the piles that clutter her home in Florida, she writes,

Hidden in this mass of several thousand books are an untold number of works that have truly helped me in my personal and spiritual formation. I will never know exactly how many have influenced my life in a significant way. Who’s to say how much Little Women influenced me, though today I only remember it as an enjoyable read? Maybe Jane Austen’s books have affected me on some deep spiritual level more than I know, though I’ve never enjoyed them much at all.

Ford begins her spiritual journey with the “Hound of Heaven” (a.k.a. Jesus)—who tracked her down through the famous poem by Francis Thompson when she was an atheist undergraduate—and moves through her shelves to reflect on her affinity for another restless pilgrim, Bob Dylan.

In between, she writes of her affiliation with the Evangelical movement and the authors from that tradition, especially Josh McDowell, A.W. Packer, and A.W. Tozer. She tells about her awakening to the social justice movement through reading James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Anne Frank. Finally, she lumps her discovery of Christian feminism and high-church liturgy into one chapter on Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott, and The Book of Common Prayer.

One small pleasure of this book (for me) were the reviews of numerous books I have not read, much less heard of. For example, I was pleased and surprised to learn of a spiritual autobiography by Josef Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, called Only One Year. I never knew that Stalin had a daughter who defected to the United States and wrote a memoir about her struggles and faith journey. I also learned some interesting tidbits about the Christian Charismatic movement. Ford, who for a time was associated with the group, writes this about the books that came out of it:

In the early 1990s, my friend Rita invited me to look through several boxes of Christian books she planned to give away, so I could see whether there were any titles that I wanted. I was familiar with…at least every author represented in the three cartons. I couldn’t find a single one I wanted…. They were all written by authors who were leaders in the charismatic movement, which was characterized in part by an emphasis on what was called God’s “now” word…. I guess that’s why so few books from that era have held up well.

Until several years ago when I stumbled across a short article in U.S. Catholic magazine that recommended rereading your favorite books as a viable spiritual practice, I thought I knew everything there is to know about books and the spiritual journey. Now, thanks to Marcia Ford, I have a new practice to try out—book journaling. For, as much as God Between the Covers is a memoir and a collection of interesting and unusual book reviews, it also represents a model that book lovers who are looking to deepen their experience of God can put to use immediately.

©2006 John Tintera

God Between the Covers

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