Lindsey Crittenden, The Water Will Hold You; A Skeptic Learns to Pray (New York: Harmony Books, 2007), 232pp.
When she was four years old Lindsey Crittenden was practicing that magical trick many an adult still remembers learning—floating on your back in the swimming pool. When you flap and flail, you will sink, but if you just relax, said her swimming instructor Mrs. Ursula, "the water will hold you." And such is the experience of Christian prayer as she describes it in this memoir.
By her college years Crittenden was a lapsed Episcopalian and a doubter, but in 1996 she walked into All Souls Church in Berkeley and, to her shock, embarked on a life-time pilgrimage shaped by Christian prayer. At first her prayers were visceral and spontaneous: "You are here, I am here." As her faith grew, initial spontaneity gave way to disciplined intentionality, including regular worship, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the rosary, candles, and spiritual direction from her pastors. She compares a life of prayer to her discipline of writing: "If I waited for inspiration, I'd never write a word. . . . I had to make prayer a habit, to go to it the way I went each morning to the desk. Not to summon prayer, but to tap into what was already there."
That discipline became essential to negotiating a complex and extremely painful family history. Her adopted brother Blake, hounded by drug addictions, was killed in a homicide. Her parents, then retirement age, gained custody of her nephew Dylan and became his de facto parents. When her mother died of cancer her aging father was effectively a single parent. Then followed a broken and deeply troubling relationship with a man, a vicious clinical depression that lasted over a year, and then a third death, her father's, all of which left her feeling like a Christian "failure and a fraud." In the end, she writes, Christian prayer is not only a way through loss and grief, it is a call of love and grace (p. 227); it's the growing realization that, yes, the water will hold us if we learn to relax.