The subtitle this 181-page spiritual memoir is “A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community”, which perhaps may feel as though the book’s cover information gives away the proverbial ranch. But Reluctant Pilgrim (Fresh Air Books, 2010) is far more than the story of a solitude-craving woman’s church search.
Author Emuna Okoro tells it like it is – whether the “it” is a confessed fondness for designer purses or the confusing cacophony of emotions that spilled out of her in the wake of her father’s death. Okoro’s Nigerian childhood was shaped by her family’s Catholic faith as much as it was by her parents’ divorce. Okoro’s teen years were spent primarily in the United States, where the contours of her childhood faith were stretched to the breaking point by Protestantism, popular culture and low-grade existential pain:
All this sort of came to a head seven years ago, once I walked out of the doors of a renowned theological institution with a degree in my hands. I didn’t immediately feel more equipped to engage the world with my trained understanding of how the perichoretic dance of the Trinity is more metaphysical than a tangible reality. What does that even mean, people? Nor was I any more in love with the church or anymore convinced that I needed a regular and consistent faith community to help me be more faithful to Jesus. The sad bottom line was that after seminary I realized I still didn’t get the half of it. I hadn’t found a home church in several years. My most fervent prayer was still about finding a hot godly man with really thick hair.
I worked at a seminary over a span of five years, and for every faith-filled, gung-ho student present on the campus, there was another who grew more and more weighed down with unanswered questions and the baggage of too much unusuable information crammed into every conceivable mental file cabinet. On the far side of all that education, life is waiting to grind some of that education into wisdom and force the baggage-carrier to put the rest into long-term cold storage.
Okoro had a love-hate relationship with the disconnect she was living with the big “C” Church, and it is here that her lyrical, blunt writing shines brightest. There are a lot of people out there living this same love-hate relationship these days, and Okoro’s experience will both resonate and challenge those people not to simply shrug off the search for a congregation. She doesn’t offer readers tidy solutions about how to resolve that tension in their own lives, but instead, allows the raw details of her journey into community – as well as how that community carried her through two significant losses – to salt the oats for readers. Recommended.
*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.