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Sharon Garlough Brown -
The Spiritual Practice of Fiction

 By Cara Strickland

  "Barefoot," the latest book from best selling author, Sharon Garlough Brown, is the third in her four part "Sensible Shoes" series. It is currently #5 on the Christian Booksellers' General Contemporary Fiction list. "An Extra Mile" will complete the series with a fall 2017 release.

  When I first picked up "Sensible Shoes," on a whim at the library, I had no idea what to expect. It's a novel, yes, but it's also a sort of spiritual retreat. This is like no Christian fiction I'd ever read, and it tied into my interests in contemplative spirituality. This was a book that read me. As I walked with the characters, I was thinking about my life differently, asking questions about my emotions and responses to the people and situations around me. The series has continued to challenge, move, and encourage me, and now the third book in the series, "Barefoot," has released into the world. I caught up with author Sharon Garlough Brown to talk about it.

Hi Sharon, it's so good to talk with you today.

  Sharon: It's wonderful to be with you, Cara.

Why don't you tell me a little bit about the
Sensible Shoes series?

  SGB: At the moment, it's a series of three books. The series starts with a book called "Sensible Shoes." "Sensible Shoes" is a kind of a hybrid genre. It's fiction, it's a novel, but it tracks four characters as they meet at a retreat center to learn some ancient practices of the church, some spiritual disciplines, and as they are going through the retreat there are six sessions.

  Those handouts are available in the book, so a reader has an opportunity whether or not to just read it as story and track the characters on their journey deeper into the heart of God, and as they're experiencing transformation, and healing, and freedom, or to also participate in the retreat.

  So that's the first book in the series, "Sensible Shoes." The second book in the series is "Two Steps Forward." It picks up right where "Sensible Shoes" leaves off, actually on the same day, and tracks the characters forward through the season of Advent.

  What I'm hoping, in "Two Steps Forward," is that people won't just see it as an Advent book that they read at that season of the year, but that we really discover that Advent is an opportunity, is a posture, year-round, this season where we are preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, where we're practicing waiting, where we're looking at themes like light shining into the darkness and how is Christ Emmanuel, God with us, making Himself known to us in the middle of the mess of life.
  So the characters are no longer in retreat in the second book, but their lives are unraveling, and the question becomes: what will they remember of what they've learned and what they've experienced and practiced together?

  "Barefoot" is the third in the series. It's the same characters, again life getting messy, and how are they connecting in community and with God?

What made you choose fiction as a way to express some of these ideas about spiritual formation and spiritual practices?

  SGB: Fiction is so invitational. Jesus knew the power of story and told stories so well. We read story in a different way than we read nonfiction. We read it with our guard down... we read it with our defenses down, and story has this potential and power to hit us and linger with us.

  Story is stealthy. I knew I wanted to tell a story about the power of the Spirit to transform us in this process of spiritual formation, this process of being conformed to the image of Christ, to becoming more like Him, and I sensed that the best way to do that, given that there are already so many wonderful nonfiction books out about spiritual formation and spiritual practices, was to try a story form where I created four characters and introduced them to these spiritual practices and just then let's see what God does with them...where do they go in this journey?

Will you tell me a little about your journey with some of the practices in the book?

  SGB: I was in pastoral ministry for a number of years before I was introduced to the notion of spiritual disciplines and the contemplative way of life. I lived a very driven, very busy [life]. I had my socially acceptable idolatries in terms of trying to perform well in ministry, trying to be enough and do enough for God and for others. That really meant living on the edge of burnout.

  About 10 years ago, I began meeting with a spiritual director, someone who's just prayerfully attentive to listening to my life and asking good questions about how I'm noticing and naming the presence of God, how I'm resisting in fear, how I'm longing for God.

  Even that first meeting, it began a paradigm shift in ministry, for me, from working really really hard for what God had already freely given, and that was His love. So it was a paradigm shift even in understanding what spiritual disciplines are.

  I grew up with this notion that spiritual disciplines are the things that we are supposed to do in order to be faithful Christians and now I see spiritual practice as a way of practicing receiving the love of God and resting in the love of God and then responding to that love in the world.

  So practices that have become life-giving for me are things like a slow meditating on scripture maybe just a short passage, Lectio Divina, which goes back way into the early centuries of the church. How are we letting the word read us, how are we letting the word come to life as we slowly chew on a passage, listening for a word or phrase that's catching our attention, kind of shimmering for us, and then we begin to to chew it and ponder it and pray it and ask God what is it about this particular word or phrase that's catching my attention and inviting me to linger with it?

  So that sort of practice has become very important. The practice of Sabbath has become really important in my rhythm of life, where Sabbath is a weekly way to declare that the world can run without my vigilance and without me having to be responsible for anything, but it's this gracious command and gracious invitation from the God who generously works the rhythm of rest into our lives and reminds us in Scripture that we are no longer slaves and that we practice the Sabbath not only to remember the image of the one in whom we're created, God who rests, but also to remember with the Israelites that we were once slaves. They were slaves in Egypt, we were slaves to our sin, and we're no longer enslaved people. Sabbath is a radical declaration to say that we are free. That means free to rest, free to play, free to enjoy God's gracious provision.

  So those are just a couple of the disciplines that have been radically life changing for me as I've practiced those.

How has writing these books enhanced your spiritual life?

  SGB: That's such a great question. The only way I know how to write is by praying my way through it. I never know plot points in advance, or rarely know them in advance, anyway, and have to just kind of pray my way day by day with the characters. I hope that that has made me more attentive not only to my own life with God and what I'm noticing about God's invitations from day to day, but also to the presence of God in other people's lives.
  Each of the characters is distinct from one another, they have different struggles, they have different joys, they have different baggage that they bring from the past. There are certain spiritual practices that might be really really life giving to, say, Hannah in her circumstances, that might mean nothing for Charissa, and vice versa.
  So I'm experiencing the presence of God as I write and I hope that makes me even more attentive to the presence of God in the lives of others.

As you prepared to send this new entry into the world, what was your hope for the readers
of the Sensible Shoes series?

  SGB: I had two hopes when I started writing "Sensible Shoes" and those hopes have continued as the series has developed. The first is that readers will catch a glimpse, a vision, of what it means to be loved by God. And I know we can give a lot of lip service that 'oh yes we know that God loves us.' But to truly truly know that the most important thing that can be said about us is not information about what our jobs are, what we've achieved, what other people think about us, but that we, like the Apostle John, are able to say that we are the disciples that Jesus loves, that we are the ones Jesus loves. It's catching a fresh glimpse of our identity in Christ as the Beloved.

  The second longing that I had is that readers would connect with one another in community. We're not meant to travel alone. The only thing that God said was not good in creation was that Adam was alone, and it's not good for us to be alone. Sometimes it can be very hard to find trustworthy companions to walk with us, but I'm hoping that the books in the "Sensible Shoes" series invite community, and not superficial community, but deep, maskless authentic, like 'this is where life is hard for me.'
  I think that, sometimes, the gift that fiction and characters can give us is they can give us mirrors to seeing our own struggle and then windows into seeing God's presence in the midst of those struggles.
  So my longing is that people say yes to the invitation to walk together. I've made available a companion guide on my website sensibleshoesclub.com. There's a free companion guide, it's available for "Sensible Shoes." It's intense. It's 12 weeks, 5 days a week, of scripture and then questions about the characters, because it's often easier to see the truth in someone else's life before we necessarily recognize it in our own.

  So: what are the characters struggling with? What are they processing right now? And then the mirror turns around to the reader: what am I seeing in my life with God? And then some ideas for prayer and for spiritual practice. I hear from lots of individuals and groups that are using that as a way to walk together and that's gratifying to me.

  from www.offthepage.com

 

Sharon Garlough Brown - Barefoot Testimony

By Diane Markins

  If you aren't familiar with the writing of Sharon Garlough Brown, you just don't know what you're missing. Her "Sensible Shoes" series is soooo stinkin' good! Take a minute to read her guest post below. 

Barefoot Characters Have Powerful Testimony

  "All that summer conceals, winter reveals," author Annie Dillard writes. It's a quote I read years ago, and it returns to me today as I look out my window at the stripped trees, their naked forms gray and stark against the morning sky. The lush green of summer is gone, and now we see the structure and shape of each gnarled, twisted branch. Winter is a season of vulnerable, courageous beauty. It's the "Here I am," maskless and open, waiting and watching season. And it whispers words of invitation and hope for those who have ears to hear.

  As "Barefoot," the third book in the "Sensible Shoes" series opens, Meg Crane is peering out her window on a winter morning, the bleakness of the landscape mirroring the sorrow in her own soul. An accusing voice rings in her head, telling her she ought to be more resilient, that she ought to be able to bounce back from suffering and move on. Meg has known people able to withstand pressure with remarkable equanimity, to stretch, bend, and adapt to suffering with grace, with hope. But, she laments, she has never been one of them.

  While Meg ponders what it would mean to be "resilient," her eyes land upon a certain tree in the neighbors' backyard, a tree with a history. Here's what Meg sees and remembers:

  The gnarled wild cherry tree in the next-door neighbors' backyard, visible from Meg's window ever since she could remember, offered a picture of resilient hope. Years ago, when Mr. and Mrs. Anderson lived there, violent winds tore through West Michigan on a balmy summer night and nearly ripped the tree out, leaving the roots exposed. The next day neighbors gathered around it, some of them bracing the trunk upright with hands and shoulders while others stamped the roots back into the soil again. Mother chided them from an upstairs window: they were fools, making such a fuss over a tree. But Meg secretly cheered them on. The tree always leaned after that storm, but it lived, its lopsidedness testifying to resilience, its yearly blossoms to hope.

  Resilient in suffering, not impervious to it. That was the silent witness of the stooped tree: not denial of the storm, but perseverance, character, and hope as a result of it.

  Oh, for that kind of testimony.

  I wonder what you see as you survey the winter landscape, not only the landscape of the physical world but the landscape of your own soul? Are there barren and desolate places you prefer to conceal? What would it mean for you to embrace the invitation of this season, to stand open and vulnerable and exposed before the God who sees you and knows you and loves you with an extravagant, embracing, unchanging fervor? And what might it be like to stand before someone else with a courageous "Here I am" posture of openness and honesty?

  In winter I am reminded that there is a particular beauty in the wounded, imperfect lives of those who have weathered storms and stand, bearing witness to a resilient hope which perseveres and to a God who will make all things well.

  Oh, for that kind of testimony.

from www.dianemarkins.com

 

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Sharon
Garlough Brown

"Barefoot #3: A Story of Surrendering to God
(Sensible Shoes)


Amazon Discount Price
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This is a story about four women's lives. Each is at a different place and spiritual level. The series began with a pastor's wife, an empty nester, a difficult marriage and working graduate student. This book continues with a soon to be divorcee, a career opportunity with a new baby on the way, the possibility of illness and an engagement. They ask God to show them how to trust in him and give them confidence through his love, guidance and support.
The third book in a four part Sensible Shoes series.

SHARON
GARLOUGH BROWN

"Two Steps Forward:
A Story of Persevering in Hope: A
Sensible Shoes Series


Amazon Discount Price
as of 7/30/2017

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Paperback- $
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Follow the spiritual journeys of four women.  They each have baggage and hit roadblocks along the way by battling to let go of control and embrace an unexpected pregnancy or experiencing old grief that keeps resurfacing or a pastor on sabbatical, that tries to find her balance with rest and a new relationship and a mother that longs for her difficult family life to improve.  These issues need healing and transformation.   The stories of these women are woven with powerful teaching and illustration of spiritual disciplines.  Along the way, you may find your own spiritual journey reflected in the lives of these women and discover the way forward on both an emotional and spiritual level.
The second book in a four part Sensible Shoes series.

SHARON
GARLOUGH BROWN

"Sensible Shoes #1: A Story About The Spiritual Journey"

Amazon Discount Price
as of 7/30/2017

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Follow four reluctant strangers on retreat in this study on spiritual formation that reads like a novel! The pastor's wife is one step from burnout. Widowed Meg is mourning an empty nest. Mara is trapped in a difficult marriage. Charissa is a hard-working graduate student who just wants to get things right. Will key spiritual practices help them find hope together?
The first book in a four part Sensible Shoes series.

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