Stumbling Toward God, Sanity and the Peace That Passes All Understanding

An NPR commentator’s story of an unlikely epiphany and the healing power of faith
“This memoir deserves to be as popular as Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ . . . It is more demanding, but also more rewarding. Its trajectory is more straightforward (from sinner to saint), but its voice is surprisingly quirky (smart, tender, tolerant, compassionate, scolding, preachy, encouraging, loving).”
The Boston Globe
“As honest and raw as the model of the spiritual memoir, the Confessions of St. Augustine.”
The Los Angeles Times
“An eloquent hymn of gratitude and wonder.”
National Catholic Reporter

Heather King has seen it all. She’s hit bottom as an alcoholic waitress. She’s reached the top as a Beverly Hills lawyer. But it’s only when she embarks on a searching spiritual quest, quits her job, and becomes a Catholic—and a writer—that her true life begins.

Smart, darkly funny, and self-deprecating, King writes of growing up in the sixties “not believing in much of anything,” of two decades of hard drinking, of how—sober, newly married, working as a lawyer, and desperately searching for meaning—she one day walks into a Catholic church and encounters Christ: “A guy who hung out with lepers, paralytics, and the possessed . . . this is someone I can trust.”

King writes poignantly of existential loneliness and the conflicted human psyche. During her marriage she finds herself holed up on the couch reading Convents of Southern France, then wondering why she and her husband weren’t having sex. She tells of the breast cancer that brought her face-to-face with her mortality and the Virgin Mary. She writes about the death of her father, the devastation of divorce, and the joys of the writing life. Throughout the narrative runs the thread of King’s developing faith: monastic retreats, the cultivation of a prayer life, reflections on and insights into the Gospels, daily Mass, and the value of a spiritual director. A voracious and eclectic reader, she quotes authors ranging from Kafka to St. Thérèse of Lisieux to the Desert Fathers.

King’s gripping story of her unlikely conversion and the wonder of discovering the healing power of spirituality deftly mixes insight and divine faith in writing that is mystical, illuminating, and inspiring.

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book excerpt

The small, hidden, anonymous God I found in the Gospels appealed to me deeply. It was the God I’d found in sobriety, who worked through other people, who had a sense of humor, who held me accountable and forgave me at the same time. Who didn’t force or judge, just invited me to do a little better, then put the challenges in my path to teach me how. Christ subverted all worldly systems—political, familial, financial: not for the sake of being subversive, but because acting with utter integrity is automatically subversive. He was left of the furthest left and right of the furthest right, both radically liberal and radically conservative. In one breath he could say, “Honor your father and your mother” [Mark 7: 10] and in another, “Let the dead bury their own dead” [Luke 9: 60].On the one hand he could say, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” [Mt. 24:42]; and on the other he could say “Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin” [Luke 12: 27]. Christ’s way was a different kind of middle ground than that of “balance” or “health”: a consenting to hold, in one’s body and soul, the almost unbearable tension of opposites; to work out each unique situation on its own terms, with no hard-and-fast guidelines or rules.

All those years of my drinking I’d told myself I hadn’t believed in God, but I really had. The God I’d believed in ruled by fear, kept an account book, operated through a system of rewards and punishments. This God I was coming to believe in was calling me to the highest possible levels of truth, courage, freedom, justice, honor, duty but was also fully human, with all a human’s capacity for tenderness, with knowledge of all the pitfalls humans are prey to, with all a human’s longing for beauty and meaning. Christ wasn’t a philosopher like Socrates. Nailed to the cross, he didn’t coolly say, “Kill me, see if I care; I’ve detached from the things of this world.” He was in agony—as we are; he was saying, “Father, Father, why have thou forsaken me?”—as we would: as I had, in so many words, at the depths of my drinking, in the crisis of my hideous legal career, a thousand times, still, every day.

And yet, against all odds, here I still was. Sober—and if you don’t think that’s a miracle, you’ve never been or met a practicing alcoholic. Writing, the one thing I’d always wanted to do. In L.A., where, instead of the long, hard winters I was used to, the sun shone down like a benediction. And at the doorstep of the Catholic Church, which, of all places, and after a lifelong sense of exile, was shaping up to be the truest home I’d ever known. Christ was so unlikely a Savior, the Resurrection so unlikely a “triumph,” that I almost had to believe it—because for all its unlikeliness (and it seemed to me this would be true of anyone), it was also the story of my own life. As C.S. Lewis famously said of Christianity: “It is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”