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A Tiny Step Away from Deepest Faith:
A Teenager's Search for Meaning

by Marjorie Corbman
Paraclete Press, 2005

review by Katie Cogan

Marjorie Corbman is no ordinary teenager, and her memoir, A Tiny Step Away from Deepest Faith, is no ordinary story. In this remarkable account, the 17-year-old high school senior bridges the gap between adolescence and adulthood through a clear and vivid discovery of universal spirituality. She brings her knowledge of the theology of world religions and combines it with an honest, personal look at God through her own challenging life experiences as she discovers herself and finds her place in the world.

As a mother of teenage daughters, I found myself marking pages for my daughters to read, particularly sections where Corbman explores her journey of self-doubt and confusion, universal components of the teen years, and describes how these problems led her to the healing heart of Christ. In a key passage, Corbman relates a pivotal event during a very difficult time when she was moved by an icon of Jesus and left broken and sad, yet open to receive His unconditional love. She said,

I was eleven, maybe twelve, during the unhappiest time of my life…. I remember His eyes…so grave, so deep, so loving; they shook me to the core.

Corbman describes herself as a spiritual seeker who became a Christian even though it was the religion that had most alienated her. She once believed that Christianity focused on an external, flat God until she met Jesus, Himself, and realized she had discovered Truth. It was an encounter with an actual person more than an encounter with a religion that moved her.

Slowly, I saw everything in my being, my existence, answered by Him, everything about Him responded to who I was, what my fears were, what I hope for, what I needed.

The eventual peace and understanding she gained was a well-earned reward, especially during a time in life when her contemporaries were just beginning to scratch the surface of topics Corbman dove into with total abandon.

Her search for what she describes as a Presence in her life began during the eighth grade, a time when she first started to believe in love. Corbman’s first real love affair, surprisingly, was with flowers—peonies—growing in her backyard garden. Their beauty and scent drew her to the realization of transcendent reality. She describes how she “let her faith be in the peonies…I’d spent hours outside, thinking, in front of them, loving, smiling—the beautiful white peonies with the soft, soft petals, like angel’s wings. I kissed them with the reverence I now give to icons.”

During these middle school years, she became interested in Wicca after reading a book popular among young Pagans that was given to her by her English teacher. Corbman sees this time in her life as yet one more path towards her discovery of Christianity. The nature-based religions provided her with a profound experience through the wonder and awe she felt when in the natural world, which eventually led her to worship the Creator of these gifts. Following in the footsteps of St. Augustine, she discovered that “nature’s answer to me had been God.”

This past April, Corbman was baptized in the Orthodox Church. Born and raised a reform Jew, she treasures the rituals and traditions of her youth including Shabbat candles, Torah scrolls, and braided bread, and sees them as a precursor to her desire for tradition and substance in her spiritual life, a longing for something tangible and tested. In the Orthodox Church, with its foundation in the ritualistic and the ancient, Corbman discovered a God who was large enough to touch the smallness of her own life. She explained, “I sometimes remember…where I came from. Everything I had then is not gone, but has been fulfilled—abundantly.”

She senses her generation longs for this too, that they are lost in a complex world and looking for a structure to hold on to. Corbman describes the false perceptions some have of her peers; “I have often heard adults accuse us of being cynical, sarcastic, bitter—far too much for children, anyway. But I would be more disturbed if we weren’t. It is good that we should reject the intellectual and cultural wasteland around us; it is good that we should question it and consider it unfulfilling. It is good that we should seek higher things, for our dwelling place is in the heavens.”

She describes her generation as chaotic, jaded, and plagued by emptiness; yet explains that these are just the reasons her peers long for a genuine spirituality. The angst of the teenage years and all of the difficult subjects that surround it, including depression, suicide, and self-mutilating behaviors, are candidly and openly examined in light of the need for faith. She uses the familiar metaphor of people lost in a desert and a God who meets them in their darkness and pain. According to Corbman, “A teenager is, in a sense, to be deserted—the world of childhood no longer applies and yet it is impossible to face reality yet. It is a time when despair, confusion, and loneliness are intensified—it is a great spiritual drought, and it is in the greatest spiritual drought that we find God…. My generation is ready for Him.”

Her book is a fascinating read with intelligent commentary drawn from many world religions and philosophers. This is not a book solely for teens; it brings to life the struggle of searching for the self that crosses all age groups. The fact that it is written by a 17-year-old only adds to the thrill of discovery. At times, she shifts rapidly between subjects, which feels somewhat jarring, though, is an effective tool to bring the reader into the mindset of this unnamed generation that follows Generation X.

Corbman speaks without any duplicity about the realities of faith and its counterpart—doubt. She dismantles many of the assumptions made about her generation while demonstrating the need for church leaders to listen to the desires of this emerging group of young adults. She tells the reader, “We are ready for perfect joy…perfection that exists in Truth, in which there is no shadow of darkness, but only the blinding light.” I closed the last page of Corbman’s unforgettable memoir with the powerful motivation to examine and reflect on my own faith and beliefs in light of her courageous journey into the alive and authentic.

Copyright ©2005 Katie Cogan

Read an essay by Marjorie Corbman on Spirituality and American Youth

A Tiny Step Away from Deepest Faith
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