Grace Period: My Ordination to the Ordinary
by Melinda Worth Popham

"Most of the time I go around on the default setting of myself - the one that says I'm a very nice person. Thoughts matter, all those judgmental, gossipy, mean-spirited, one-down, depressing thoughts I have, but they don't count against me - against my self-image, I mean - the way what I do does."

A story of one woman's triumph over adversity, this autobiography is infused with Popham's religious and spiritual beliefs and her encounters with divinity. The topics explored are ones that most people experience: love, loss, loneliness, death, trauma, pain, joy, happiness, sadness, fun, abandonment, and creativity. The author paints a descriptive picture of what was missing in her life—a needed connection to the blessed and holy through pain—what she relates to as the Miracle Go of her spiritual life. In a heartfelt manner, she examine's her own thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.

The Prologue focuses on being thrust into her first class at Yale Divinity School and an assignment regarding a personal experience with darkness. Thus begins her self-examination and the darkness that overtook her daughter. For this is also a story of her daughter's process as she survives severe depression and the horror story that goes with such an illness. The book is 244 pages with end notes and is divided into two parts—Part One: Holy Hell and Part Two: Grace Period.

Part One: Holy Hell, consists of eight chapters with a focus on her childhood, marriage, her daughter's depression, divorce, and her daughter leaving her to live with her father, her relationship with her son who left their home to attend boarding school, her mother's death, and her ex-husbands's cancer and eventual death. She reveals that her life had become one of emptiness and fear. She begins to focus more on church and a Centering Prayer practice which begins to motivate her through her own trauma and loss. Having been a "functional atheist" for sixteen years, this starts changing as she feels God and angels watching over her daughter. As she opens to God, she finds a level of transcendence as her spirit continues to expand with the outcome of deciding to attend Yale Divinity School.

Part Two: Grace Period, with its twenty-three chapters, examines entering Yale Divinity School and working towards her M..A. while focusing on the logos and wisdom of such religious practice. Disappointed that the school didn't have any type of Centering Prayer practice, she starts a group of her own. However, she continues to struggle with loneliness and as she recaps her ongoing losses, she begins to find radiance and awe that help her cope. She adds other stories such as issues with her problematic neighbors, an encounter with a turtle, and other mundane everyday events that focus on her life in the ordinary. But within her daily encounters, she discovers how life can be numinous. Yet of significant importance is her ability to look at her anger and her shadow side of her personality.

Utilizing various belief systems including Buddhism, Quaker thought, Sufism,Taoism, and others, the focus is mostly on Christian thought and her primary interests in mysticism, monasticism, and the arts. She especially relates to the story of the prodigal son as she examines this parable in light of her own family. She uses various Biblical quotes and quotes from mystics such as Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating to support her insights and understanding of scripture as based on her Christianity.

The writing is descriptive, centered, and expansive into the grace of God. One can relate to the ordinary life she describes regarding the basic day-to-day activities. The last chapter is the most beautifully written one as she summarizes her transformation. And while Popham might not know what she needs to do in her life, it appears that she has finally learned how to be instead of how to just do. In the end, this could be anyone's autobiography, for we all have a story to tell. The difference may be her search and longing for a religious and spiritual focus, as well as her transformation of everyday life as her ordination into the ordinary through her God.

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