It’s nearly time.
Even two weeks ago, standing thigh-deep in snow beside the bush, I could see that the buds had begun to swell large, and so it won’t be long until I lop off some of the bush’s waywardness and then arrange the bare branches in a vase of water. I will begin watching every day for the delicate, vivid yellow flowers to announce that spring is happening in my house — no matter what’s happening in the great outdoors on this country hill in Maine
It was for this:
- the intimate observation of seasonal changes;
- the beauty and joy of a handwritten letter in which grace comes in the letting go;
- the thoughtful glance skyward;
- the face-to-face rebuilding of a broken marriage — it was for this very thing that Esther Emery unplugged her life from the Internet in November 2009. For one year, she lived a life without email, without a cell phone, and without a debit card. No Google, no on-line shopping, no text messages. She walked away from her blog, an encouraging Facebook community, and any trace of an on-line presence in a leap of Stop-doing-everything-you-know-and-start-doing-everything-you-don’t-know Faith.
What Falls from the Sky shares this journey in four parts that correlate with four glorious gifts from the sky: snow, rain, sunshine, and fog.
- In the season of snow, Esther quit her job and made a cross-country move to Boston with two small children in support of her husband’s career. This obvious high-intensity-tumult actually pales in comparison with the angst of her Internet withdrawal. Against the backdrop of a snowy New England winter, she began to stop looking for her significance in terms of her electronic self. This unplugging left Esther with plenty of space for wrestling with her ambivalence toward her non-traditional up-bringing and for discovering that “the alternative to screen time is table time.” She cut her ties with the bulimic teenager she used to be and turned her eyes away from the theater she loved; and then tied on a striped apron and began trying to decipher her husband’s recipes for cranberry muffins and lentil soup. Like a snow globe turned upside down, her values swirled, but then re-settled into new patterns in which compassion trumps achievement and humility suddenly has equal footing with leadership.
- It was from this humility that Esther traced her spiritual re-awakening. Words from the Bible fell like rain on parched ground as she gulped down the Revelation first and then watched spring come through the lenses of Genesis and Thoreau. A celebration of Easter in community introduced her to the beauty of “borrowed” power from the crucified and risen Christ and the truth that this is “not theoretical at all.” The vulnerability of Good Friday left Esther defenseless against the claims of Christ upon her life, and she was captured by the forgiveness that conquers fear, the “Jesus of the brokenhearted, the Jesus of the suffering.” Ironically, as her spiritual life came into focus, the material world also became sharper, and she and her husband, Nick, took on the joint task of digging themselves out of debt and handling their finances as a team.
- Under the bright light of summer days, Esther began to examine her motives for stepping away from the Internet. Is this really about spiritual formation? Or is it about self validation? As her life changed and she and her husband grew closer, they began to feel as it they were on a boat, moving further and further from the shore — and further and further from the other people in their lives. Esther’s perspective on the church is refreshing: I read and re-read with a smile her assessment of church meetings as “jovially disorganized.” Too, her tenacity in sticking with her commitment to fellowship is a grace sadly lacking even in more seasoned believers. To her surprise, “the God she believed in” directed her path to Nicaragua with its enculturated gospel and its unmitigated poverty, where she slept in a room in which the ceiling was carpeted in bats and concluded that “this is what you get, I guess, if you say ‘anything’ somewhere where God can hear you.”
- The fog of reverse culture shock was waiting at the airport for Esther when she returned to her ecstatic family, deepening her realization that it would not be possible to drag others, still in the center, out to her “edge” because they had not traveled her road. Ironically, when her family’s apartment is burglarized, one of the items stolen is the laptop containing all the notes and files she was in the process of recording during her disconnected months. A tentative foray into gardening, and a commitment to inter-dependency and to the growing health of her marriage all began singing into Esther’s life the same song in different keys: “things grown again.”
With the structure of a memoir and the tone of an Old Testament prophet, What Falls from the Sky kept me reading and curious simply from the sheer impossibility of the experiment. How does a woman who has “walked away from her faith” and become an “outspoken critic of Christianity” with a significant online presence (and a husband who is an atheist) make a journey away from the internet and toward a following life? How can the experience of “looking up” for an entire year — noticing the sky and the seasonal changes, delighting in the company of her children and the deepening of her own inner life — how can this bring about a transformation that heals the ragged edges of a heart that needs to forgive and to be forgiven? Esther Emery has crafted a travelogue for any heart that longs to recognize itself from the inside out, without the aid of the electronic mirror, and to embark upon a life that has been transformed by the resurrected Jesus Christ.
This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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