Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"When the Heart Waits" (A Book Review"

Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions (New York: HarperOne  1990, 2006), 226 pages, notes and a study guide

I've always thought of Sue Monk Kidd as a novelist, even though I was only somewhat familiar with her work.  When I came across this book on spirituality, I was intrigued.   I picked the book up last Spring thinking I would read it during my Sabbatical travels, but at the last minute decided to leave it behind.  It was the book to read after I returned!

Sue writes about what she calls her “winter of discontent.  Others may refer to it as a “mid-life crisis.”  At the beginning of the book, life seems to have lost its meaning for her.  Not knowing what to do or where to turn, she takes a long winter afternoon walk (taking a walk as such a time resonates well with me).  During her walk, she discovers a cocoon, which she becomes the glue for her story as she brings home the stick holding the cocoon and watches and waits until the butterfly appears.  Along the way, she learns a lot about waiting and challenges our society’s demand for immediate results.   Throughout her book, she draws upon natural science (as she links her story into the story of the cocoon), the Bible and the spiritual knowledge from the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us, folk tales and down-home stories.

Some quotes:

Waiting and grace:  “Nor does it mean that the deliberate process of waiting produces grace.  But waiting does provide the time and space necessary for grace to happen.”  (13)

Thoreau:  “Nothing can be more useful to a man than a determination not to be hurried.” (19)

“Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions.  Growth germinates not in tent dwellings but in upheaval.  Yet the seduction is always security rather than venturing, instant knowing rather than deliberate waiting.”  (25)

On Weddings:  “Walking an aisle can be a marvelous thing, as long as we acknowledge that the aisle doesn’t end at the altar but goes on winding through life.”  (26)

“One of the mistakes Christians are fond of making is trying to be more spiritual than God.”  -Archbishop William Temple (27)

"I heard Marion Woodman, an expert in addictive behaviors, put it like this: The natural gradient in us is toward growth.  Whatever we use repeatedly and compulsively to stop that growth is our particular addiction.”  (30-31)

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” –Gandhi (31)

"The pain won’t kill you,” he said, “but running from it might.”  -a counselor (40)

“But the question here is whether we’ve been so busy saving souls that we’ve neglected the unfolding of the God-image within them.”  (49)

“Accomplishments and achievements are well and god, but they need to flow out of a healthy motivation.  Otherwise, when they cease we experience an empty darkness.” (62)
Kierkegaard:  “courage isn’t the absence of despair and fear but the capacity to move ahead in spite of them.” (72)

“Jung once pointed out that religion can easily become a defense against an experience of God.”  (90)

“security was a denial of life.”  -A preacher  (109)

“There should always be more waiting than striving in a Christian’s prayer.”  Evelyn Underhill (123)

“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)

“our stories are the best ‘bread’ we can offer one another…”  (154)

“The past is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”  John Claypool in a sermon (192)


  1. I'm gearing up to read some books on religion and science for a project I'm working on. It's been a long time since I've read much of a spiritual nature

  2. I may look for that one. I really like the quote about weddings and the aisle.

  3. Throughout her book, she draws upon natural science (as she links her story into the story of the cocoon), the Bible and the spiritual knowledge from the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us, folk tales and down-home stories.

    Nice thoughts on the total Summa of wisdom, if I may be be forgiven the redundancy. I've always that that Truth exists as a component of God, and all persons, regardless of belief system, are capable of discovering parts of the whole on occasion. To assert that "two plus two is four" is true, regardless of whether the speaker is Mother Theresa, or your favorite Pastor or Adolf Hitler. Truth and wisdom exist, part of God and therefore part of the Universe we inhabit. Too often, we Christians dismiss a statement merely because of the identity of the author speaker. Of course, such is a logical fallacy of the first order.


  4. The first book I bought of hers was The Secret Life of Bees, which reminds me my daughter still has! I so enjoy your book reviews and missed seeing them while you were living around the world! These quotes are great to just read through a few times! Thanks!

  5. It's wonderful that your instinct in leaving the book behind made it all the more special for the time after you returned.

    I am in a place in which I need a new job desperately. The one I have is not covering the bills, yet I love my co-workers and the clients. And a new job offer came, at a good salary, excellent benefits and close to home, but something I wasn't interested at all in doing. But I accepted it anyway and then the whole thing fell through (thankfully before I had turned in my notice - it's a long story.) God knew I wouldn't be happy there - perhaps the exercise in the interview process itself was to show me what I need to look for.

    So this quote you list just resonated with me:

    Waiting and grace: “Nor does it mean that the deliberate process of waiting produces grace. But waiting does provide the time and space necessary for grace to happen.”

    Thank you, my friend. I'm going to find this book.

  6. Charles, sounds like an interesting aisle

    Judy, in your line of work, perhaps you can use the quote!

    Randall, those of us in the Reformed Tradition call such shared truths and goodness that exists across cultures and religions "common grace" (as opposed to "saving grace"

    Karen, glad to remind you to collect what is yours from your daughter ;)

    Lynn, sorry to hear about your job, but it is interesting how doors open and close and sometimes they are for the best. I hope the book is helpful to you.

  7. Are there not times in life when we are inward focusing in what amounts to a negative way. Not being contemplative in other words. But within a thought pattern that is at best a inner spiral, at worst circular. In order to get out of this one needs to see something other; with some it's working in Calcutta with the Sisters, with SM Kidd 'twas the cocoon.
    My difficulty with novels slash help books is the intellectualisation of the spark. It is reducing the meaning and impact for some. But it is also taking it out of the lives of those that don't or haven't the implements to dance three ways to Wednesday with it.
    Frosts "TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood", or any poem for that matter can be read by anyone. It doesn't need to be mediated out of the existence of those who in the eyes of some have no right to their own opinion. And for the last 75 years that has been the operating principle within academia; and the education establishment generally.
    Basically, a fork in a road in an autumn wood can simply be sublime when you are standing at it as well as when you are reading about it. And a cocoon on a harsh mid-winters day can be seen as a marvel of creation first, then maybe the metamorphosis.