Book Review: Tables in the Wilderness

Book Review: Tables in the Wilderness

About the Book:

In Tables in the Wilderness, Preston Yancey arrived at Baylor University in the autumn of 2008 with his life figured out: he was Southern Baptist, conservative, had a beautiful girlfriend he would soon propose to, had spent the summer living in southeast Asia as a missionary, and planned to study political science. Then God slowly allowed Preston’s secure world to fall apart until every piece of what he thought was true was lost: his church, his life of study, his political leanings, his girlfriend, his best friend . . . and his God. It was the loss of God in the midst of all the godly things that changed Preston forever. One day he felt he heard God say, “It’s going to be about trust with you,” and then God was silent—and he still hasn’t spoken. At least, not in the ways Preston used to think were the only ways God spoke. No pillars of fire, no clouds, just a bit of whisper in wind. Now, Preston is a patchwork of Anglican spirituality and Baptist sensibility, with a mother who has been in chronic neurological pain for thirteen years and father still devoted to Southern Baptist ministry who reads about saints’ lives on the side. He now shares his story of coming to terms with a God who is bigger than the one he thought he was worshiping—the God of a common faith, the God who makes tables in the wilderness, the God who is found in cathedrals and in forests and in the Eucharist, the God who speaks in fire and in wind, the God who is bigger than narrow understandings of his will, his desire, his plan—the God who is so big, that everything must be his.

“I don’t know exactly what it is about Preston’s writing, but you manage to find a million points of connection no matter how your spiritual path has meandered.… As you turn the very last page, your soul is yearning for God, and you know that he will be found.” -Jen Hatmaker, author of Interrupted and 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess

“Preston’s book reads like a carefully crafted novel, replete with unexpected twists that will captive audiences. It is a tale of someone with enough spiritual chops to ask difficult questions about God and life. Read it and uncover a faith worth believing.” -Jonathan Merritt, author of Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined; senior columnist for Religion News Service

…God makes tables in the wilderness.

God makes them everywhere if we’d only learn to look.

My Thoughts:

This is another book sure to make it onto my “Top Ten” list of books I read in 2014.  (And yes, I know that’s a big statement as the year is only half-way through).  I really wasn’t sure what to expect as I’ve never read a memoir by anyone so young.

I loved it.  It was beautiful and honest.  Preston shared his journey and his questions, his thoughts, his doubts and his wrestling.  The story was laced with Holy Curiosity, with discovery and confusion, with failure and with perseverance in hope.  I loved what Jen Hatmaker said in her review…”As you turn the very last page, your soul is yearning for God, and you know that he will be found.”  This book made me hungry again in a deeper way for the God who dwells in mystery and yet reveals Himself to us in the most unexpected ways.

Gregory of Nyssa points out that Moses’s vision of God began with the light, with the visible burning bush, the bush which was bright with fire and was not consumed; but afterwards, God spoke to him in a cloud.  After the glory which could be seen with human eyes, he began to see the glory which is beyond and after light.  The shadows are deepening all around us.

-Madeleine L/Engle, A Circle of Quiet (Quoted in Tables in the Wilderness)

Spiritual memoirs are one of my favorite genres, because memoirs aren’t about dogma, but about questions and discovery, the getting it wrong and learning and growing and transformation.  In Preston’s book the layout is as cyclical as his thoughts making the series of events a bit hard to follow (even though I’m familiar with this form of thinking after living long in Central Europe).  Still, I might have preferred a more linear layout, even while I appreciate the thoughtful style chosen by the author.  This brought to mind Ian Cron’s memoir (another favorite) where he states in the preface how he has tried to arrange events so they read in a linear fashion, as an unfolding experience of God (even if they didn’t exactly happen exactly in the exact way/order that they were included) and the outcry that came from so many at that choice. So, I guess I’d just recommend that you be prepared to wander in and out of events as you follow the questions rather than the timeline.

Yancey quotes his father as saying: “To tell a story is an act of worship.  To be entrusted with a story is an act of holiness.”  I am thankful that Yancey chose to tell his story and I know that in taking hold of it I have entered a holy space.  I put down the book grateful for a glimpse of another journey, one that looks nothing and everything like my own journey into a deeper knowing of the God who is “Big and wide and a little wild.”

This book is perhaps not for “chess player” who views faith in clear distinctions of black and white, rules and regulations.  This book is for the poets, the ones who embrace the Mystery, the ones who have perhaps already walked through their own dark night of the soul.  If you are willing to enter into the “kaleidoscope” where the pieces of color never change, but instead re-arrange themselves into the discovery of new pictures and unfolding (yet ancient) patterns, then this book is for you.

For you…

I am writing to share with you a vocabulary for the beauty you have seen,

so that you can tell me about it,

so that you can tell me that God is beautiful.

That’s the point.

I received a free galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.