Book Title: Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life
Author: Lauren Winner
Date Published: January 20, 2004
Publisher: Shaw Books
Genre: 1. Messianic Judaism
2. Educators
3. Other Religions, Practices & Sacred Texts
ISBN: 978-0877881070
Reviewer: Naomi Rothstein

The word spiritual” has come to mean many things; or rather; it has come to mean nothing in particular. All sorts of people choose to describe themselves as “spiritual” these days, but what they are suggesting is that they are searching for meaning in a way that doesn’t bring them too much discomfort.

Lauren Winner is different. Her memoir isn’t so much a chronicle of her hunt for meaning alone, but of her search for truth. And her journey has been anything but easy.

Born to a Reform Jewish father and a lapsed Southern Baptist mother, Lauren was always intensely interested in religion, though, “No one in my family…talked about God.” She laughingly recounts a time in eighth grade when she chose to review Deuteronomy for a book report:

“This book is a little slow,” I wrote. “It’s basically a rehash of laws that were discussed in earlier books of the Bible.” In the blank for the author’s name, I wrote, “God.”

Such humorous incidents notwithstanding, Lauren took religion seriously, and knowing thatmany would not consider her Jewish, since her mother was not Jewish, she decided at an early age to convert to Orthodox Judaism. Says Winner, “No other way to pursue Judaism made much sense. If the Torah was true, then we should spend all our time reading it, and all our life living by it.”

Lauren enrolled at Columbia University, “…not because it had a pretty campus or a good lacrosse team or a favorable male-to-female ratio, but because it had hundreds of Orthodox Jews.” There she began working with a rabbi to convert.

Yet after becoming Orthodox, a curious thing happened: Lauren found herself reading more and more about Christianity. She delved into medieval Christian art, Southern Christian literature and Christian history:

“The very first thing I liked about Christianity…was…the idea that God lowered himself and became a man so that we could relate to Him better.…God got to be both a distant and transcendent Father god, and a present and immanent Son god who walked among us. Christians, unlike Jews, spent their time talking to a God who knew from experience what it was like to get hungry, to go swimming, to miss a best friend.…All through the Torah, God is pictured as having hands, a face. The rabbis say, Of course God doesn’t really have hands, but the Torah uses the language of faces and hands and eyes so that we will have an easier time wrapping our minds around the infinite…That is what you say if you are a rabbi. But if you are a good novelist, you actually give Him hands and eyes by the end of the book, and that is what the Bible does. It says, in Deuteronomy, that God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and then it gives Him an arm in the Gospel of Matthew.”

But though Christianity appealed to the literature buff in her, Lauren says that she was not persuaded: “It was a good story…but I was sure that it wasn’t, finally, true. It was a good story the way The Great Gatsby is a good story. Beautifully written, clever, insightful, but not something to shape your life around. Not something to pray to.”

Still her fascination with Jesus continued to such an extent that her Orthodox Jewish boyfriend confronted her and said, “Lauren, if a Jewish person converted to Catholicism, wouldn’t you think it was strange if she then majored in Jewish Studies at college, spent afternoons at the Jewish museum, and read My Name is Asher Lev once a week?”

“At the time I thought Dov was overreacting,” Lauren says. “Now I think he could see something I could not see. He could see Jesus slowly goading me toward Him.”

Eventually, despite the intellectual and social pressure, Lauren “gave in to Jesus, admitted I’d been fighting with Him all these years the way you fight with someone you love.” But that is not the end of the story; in fact, it is only the beginning.

Girl Meets God is an absorbing, amusing and authentic narrative. It is also a-linear. Lauren uses the holiday cycle as a framework for recounting her journey to Jesus and her sojourn since. Her account is sort of memoir-meets-essay—the story is interspersed with anecdotes and musings regarding how to integrate two faiths that have historically been seen as diametrically opposed. Because she speaks the languages of Judaism and Christianity so ?uently, Winner can deftly point out the intersections of both traditions.

But just because she knows the lingo, it doesn’t mean she has it all figured out. Lauren readily admits that the path she has chosen has not been easy in terms of relationships lost, nor has she resolved just how to live out her identity as a Jewish believer in Jesus. Yet in spite of her questions, doubts and insecurities she refuses to turn back.

Lauren may be a bit nervous about “outing” herself in this book, as some of her more academic friends (Winner is a contributor for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World and Publishers Weekly) may belittle her faith, and her believing friends may be a tad shocked at some of the ways Lauren freely admits she continues to stumble on her path—but for our part, Girl Meets God is a refreshingly honest, truly spiritual memoir that will resonate in the hearts and minds of earnest seekers.