Book Review: Wearing God by Lauren Winner

The pages I've marked.
The pages I’ve marked.

I read most of Lauren Winner’s new book while traveling by plane, when I didn’t have post-it notes or even a pen handy, so I unashamedly dog-eared the pages to be able to find sections I wanted to quote in this review. As you can see from the picture, there are many. I came to Winner’s work when she offered to share copies of her last book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, with members of RevGalBlogPals. Through her generosity, literally hundreds of clergywomen received free copies of the book. I knew of her only by reputation – in other words, at that time, I knew she was a writer and somehow famous, but I didn’t know why or what her other books had been about except for having a vague sense that she might be evangelical or at least in some way affiliated with Christianity Today magazine. I’ve since learned more about her journey from Judaism to Christianity, her writings on celibacy and the period of reflection following her divorce.

Those biographical and literary facts are only a part of Winner’s story. She is a scholar, a teacher, a priest and a lover of scripture, all characteristics that inform her beautiful new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. Winner brings both a depth of research and an imaginative mind to her exploration of images we tend to forget in worship and devotions.

Clothing ~ Are we clothed in Christ? It’s an old idea, but a challenging one. It means a change in our inner appearance, a change in who we are. And what does it mean when she teaches a class to incarcerated women in green uniforms sitting alongside Duke students in sweater sets? Sometimes we forget what our outer garments say about whose we are.

Smell ~ I found the story of her friend Maisie (beginning on p. 81) particularly – well, what is the olfactory version of resonant? Aromatic? I found the story aromatic. Maisie wore the shirts of her late husband for many months because they held his smell. Having held onto the t-shirt of a long-distance love, I knew exactly what she meant. In scripture, God perceives sacrificial odors as good, and Jesus himself is a sweet smelling offering to God. I find the latter a strange challenge to my discomfort with atonement theology, but I’m fascinated by the ideas Winner collects.

Bread and Vine ~ Here’s where I began dog-earing in earnest. All these spoke to me: the image (p. 108) of an exhausted God “hand(ing) a can of SpaghettiOs to the saints,” the sacrament of box lunches packed for African-Americans traveling outside safe territory, Jesus himself as manna, as “journeying bread” (pp. 111-112), the writings of Mechthild (p. 116) as a reverse Communion image in which we place our difficulties like bread crumbs into God’s hand, the making of rosilio, an eccentric liqueur (well, eccentric to me) as a counterpoint to excess (p. 126), and the idea of being intoxicated by God, something that as a childhood Baptist is a stretch for me, and yet something I understand quite well in other ways.

There is so much more, sections on God as laboring woman and laughter  (Sarah is transformed by it! p. 186) and flame, and a beautiful if admittedly incomplete reflection on violent, even abusive, images of God as found in scripture. Winer intersperses both classical and contemporary quotes and prayers, many of them jewels, but I sometimes found their placement to be a distraction from her writing. I identified with Winner’s identification of her biases of interpretation and the challenge she offers the reader to see with different eyes, and frankly with her nerdy highbrow tendencies as well. While this is a book you could easily read one section at a time, I did not want to put it down.

I hope I’ve provided enough fragrant crumbs to make you yearn for a copy.


Full disclosure: I received a free copy of Wearing God from the publisher, but there was no requirement to offer a favorable review in return.

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