Monday, February 17, 2014

BookPastor >> "When the Heart Waits" (Sue Monk Kidd)

This review was first published on July 11th, 2010 at this blog. It has been slightly revised.

TITLE: When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions (Plus)
AUTHOR: Sue Monk Kidd
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990, (240 pages).

This is a book to help us cultivate the posture of waiting. Throughout the book, the author uses the cocoon/butterfly metaphor to help readers understand the importance of waiting. In a society that tends to want quick results, fluttering butterflies are overwhelmingly preferred, and boring static coccoons are shunned. Her book covers four phases which parallels the stages of growth of a butterfly.

Phase 1 - Waiting and Transformation
Phase 2 - Passage to Separation
Phase 3 - Passage of Transformation
Phase 4 - Passage of Emergence

Essentially, this book is Kidd's way of getting in touch with our inner lives, to understand the 'deep and beautiful work of soulmaking' (ix).

Filled with personal stories as well as insightful lessons from children's tales like Rapunzel, Little Red Hen, and Chicken Little.  Her essence of waiting can be understood from her description about the three stages of waiting.
"Egypt, wilderness, and promised land are comparable to interior states of being: larva, cocoon, and butterfly. In both journeys - inward and outward - there's first a movement of separation, then a holding environment where transformation happens, and finally an emergence into a new existence." (78)
Another profound insight I find helpful is about how waiting and prayer are linked. She describes the observations of Eugene Peterson as follows:
"The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it." (Eugene Peterson, 129)

This is followed by a powerful learning point. Kidd writes:

"This is the motivation behind waiting prayer. We place ourselves in postures of the heart, in the stillness that enables us to become aware of what God is doing so that we can gradually say yes to it with our whole being." (129)

My Comments

Readers ought to take note of the 'When' in the title of the book. In contrast to the tendency to use 'why' like philosophy, or to use 'how' for practicality, the author truly embraces the essence of waiting through timing. Waiting is about timing and Kidd is spot on. Written from a personal perspective, Kidd combines a keen observation of the natural world, with a heightened awareness of the supernatural. The result is a powerful book that provides readers with help about spiritual direction, personal guidance and useful tips on how to cultivate a heart that waits. While Kidd may not have the philosophical brilliance like Simone Weil, or the classical insights of the Medieval writers like Julian of Norwich, her book fits in the genre of contemporary spirituality that the modern world so deeply needs. In this sense, Kidd's writings are a lot easier to read and comprehend, compared to the spiritual masters of the Medieval world. Having said that, Kidd incorporates a couple of references to these ancient masters of spirituality like Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Siena, and the desert fathers.

My favourite part of the book is "Quickaholic Spirituality." The biblical waiting portion is really good. She writes:
"If you want to be impressed, note how often God's people seem to be waiting. Noah waits for the flood waters to recede; Daniel waits through the night in a den of lions; Sarah waits in her barrenness for a child; Jacob waits for Rebecca's hand. The Israelites wait in Egypt, then wait forty more years in the desert. Later they wait seventy years in Babylonian captivity. Jonah waits in a fish's belly; Mary waits; Simeon waits to see the Messiah; the apostles wait for Pentecost; Paul waits in prison." (28-29)

If I have a critique of the book, it will be her almost uncritical way of taking in material from all sources. For instance, we see her soaking in Carl Jung's "Stages of Life" like a sponge. She does not explain the pros and cons, or the limits of applying Jung's theory. Anyway, I do not feel this is a major problem. The book has more positives that makes this book a worthy purchase. All in all, this book is a great resource to help us learn to wait and develop patience. The study guide at the end of the book is an excellent way for small groups to discuss the book's contents.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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