A Review of
Shaky Ground: What to do After the Bottom Drops Out
Reviewed by Renee Emerson
“What I thought might alter my Christianity into something false and unrecognizable has deepened it. These gifts from other church traditions and from other people of faith throughout the centuries, carrying such lofty identifying terms as spiritual practices, spiritual disciplines, sacraments, and mysteries, exist for our benefit. They are vehicles to help us move ever closer to God, and they’ve been helping men and women grow deeper in their faith walks for ages.” – Traci Rhoades
I am reading Traci’s book from ground which is not only “shaky” but sometimes nonexistent. My husband and I have buried three children in four years: one when she was six months old, from a congenital heart defect, and two through second trimester miscarriages. It was the third loss that left my faith reeling (and also when I found that God’s love for me truly will not let me go) when I began to read everything I could on surviving trials, including this book, which pointed me to the gifts God has given to the church in times of trouble—spiritual practices and each other.
Rhoades’s book is refreshing in that instead of writing decisively from a certain church corner, she reminds us that, for those of us who follow Christ and believe in him for salvation from sins, we are all part of the Church. We are all part of one bride of Christ, no matter how we baptize, break bread, or worship. “We have so much to offer one another when it comes to living in a shaky world,” Rhoades reminds us.
Remembering that we are all part of one body of believers, we can learn spiritual disciplines from other denominations and traditions that can bolster our faith when we encounter trials, when we come to shaky ground.
I have found this to be true. I grew up a traditional Southern Baptist, and I’m thankful that I was raised with hymns rich in theology, with memorizing Bible verses in vacation bible school, and with a heart for reaching out to our community. When my husband and I became Presbyterian, I discovered the beauty of liturgy in worship, memorizing creeds, and baptizing our children as a sign of the covenant. While these two denominations interpret some issues differently, I believe they both worship and serve the Lord, and can learn much from each other.
Rhoades guides the reader through spiritual disciplines she has learned through her openness to friendship with believers from other strains of the church, through visiting other churches, and through researching church tradition. She says, “God has worked in me in these spaces, breaking down misgivings I’ve had about traditions other than my own.”
The book is divided into sections that each focus on a different discipline. The first is the discipline of silence, both in individual worship and corporately, and in ministering to others. She then writes of the many different ways to pray—spontaneous prayer, written prayers, prayers of others. Bible reading, church history, and gifts of the church (such as communion and baptism) wrap up the end of the book, with a blend of personal experience and spiritual practices.
She does not neglect to reach out to those who may be reading the book while struggling with their faith. She urges such readers to look outside the church tradition in which they may have been raised or first encountered – perhaps the church tradition that hurt them—and to consider exploring the many facets and branches of the Church at large. This was particularly wise advice—a mega church experience with fog machines and thousands of people is very different from a country church experience where you sing hymns from a piano, or from a Catholic church where you kneel to receive Eucharist. Part of the beauty of the bride of Christ is her diversity, “all things to all people.”
After reading Rhoades’s book, I am curious too about what spiritual disciplines could be beneficial to me in times of grief and trial—praying the rosary? Unheard of for a good Baptist girl. But maybe I need that tangible feeling of bead after bead between my fingers to offer more physicality to my prayer. Perhaps reading the Bible aloud will help the words seep deeper into my soul. Or maybe I would benefit from silence; simply sitting with the Lord, waiting for Him to speak first.
Renee Emerson is the author of the poetry collections Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing 2014), Threshing Floor (Jacar Press 2016), and Church Ladies (forthcoming, Fernwood Press 2023). She is also the author of the chapbook The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants (Belle Point Press), and the middle grade novel Why Silas Miller Must Learn to Ride a Bike (Wintergoose Publishing 2022). She lives in the Midwest with her husband and children. Her website is www.renee-emerson.com
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