Have you ever looked back at your life and seen something you dont remember noticing?
Like the hand of God?
The Rev. James Howell wasnt baptized as a baby. Growing up, he never went to Christian camp or joined a church youth group. From elementary school through high school, his life was about sports, girls, school, TV.
My attentiveness to God was all but nonexistent, the pastor of Charlottes Myers Park United Methodist writes in his new memoir.
But when he journeyed back to those years for Struck from Behind: My Memories of God, Howell discovered God was present, attentive to him long before he embraced religion and the ministry in his 20s.
What had not dawned on me then, what had not struck me, was that God was back there, maybe in the shadows, lurking around, and active all along, Howell writes. When I have remembered moments and people and places from my childhood, adolescence, and even my adult life, Ive come to acknowledge over and over what Jacob realized (in Genesis) when he woke up in Bethel after sleeping on the ground with a stone for a pillow: Surely the Lord was in this place, but I did not know it.
Dont read this to mean that Howell thinks God always had a plan for his life, the author said during an interview this week. Struck From Behind is not a pious book, and it will frustrate readers looking for easy answers.
Howell told me his real purpose in writing this nuanced, thought-provoking memoir his 16th book was to invite others to look at their own past with new eyes.
There was never the assumption that people need to know about me, he said. Its If I talk about me, people will think more deeply about their own lives and specifically how maybe God was (there) when they didnt realize it.
Or as he puts it beautifully in his book: God resides in our memory as an exquisite gift waiting to be opened.
That said, I found Howells re-telling of his life honest, moving and quite readable.
At 160 pages, he takes us from his childhood home, where his parents fought and eventually divorced, to his life as a pastor, where hospital visits put him face-to-face with death, grief and maybe a miracle recovery.
Spiritual autobiography can be a rich genre. Among the classics: Thomas Mertons The Seven Storey Mountain, C.S. Lewis Surprised by Joy and Frederick Buechners The Sacred Journey.
Such books, Howell said, let readers get to know authors people theyve never met on an in-depth level.
By opening up with Struck from Behind, Howell said, I would hope Id make some new friends.
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