I have a close friend who read this book earlier this year, and I snagged the audio book on CD to listen to it in my truck so we could discuss amongst ourselves. The following are the main thoughts I took away from the book.
First, it was an interesting read. Elizabeth Gilbert(the author) takes us on a ride from four months in Italy to four months in India to four months in Indonesia. I personally was the most interested during the parts that showed "the view" from inside an ashram(not sure about the spelling on that) in India. This is sort of like a retreat/temporary monastery type dealio for those seekin a lil enlightenment Hindu style. I also was fascinated with the social structure of Indonesia (specifically Bali--the only Hindu island of the otherwise Muslim Indonesia). The Italy part just primarily made me hungry for pasta and a good cup of coffee. This interesting journey is set within the context of Ms. Gilbert's personal spiritual journey at a very painful point in her life.
I'm not a book critic though, and the thing that drew me to this book was the underlying conclusions that I knew would inevitably be there to be found.
CHAPTERS 3, 57, and whatever the next to last chapter was.....
First, I'll address what I identified as the core message of the book. In chapter 3, Liz shares the catalyst that sort of gets the ball rolling on her spiritual journey. She prays. She is a snotty, crying, sobbing mess on her bathroom floor in the middle of the night while her then husband was sleeping. She knew that she was miserable for many different reasons, and she cried out for help. She holds a conviction that she hears a calm, strong, loving voice(a version of her own voice but much more at peace and authoritative) that responds with very simple instructions to return to bed to sleep. Simple instructions but the experience was a VERY powerful one for her.
This is crucial for two primary reasons. 1.It launches this very committedly non-spiritual person into a new direction and thus the story ensues. 2. It also serves as THE point of reference at the end of the year long journey for the author to make her point(in the next to last chapter). She refers to an old Hindu proverb that claims there are two forces at work that turn an acorn into an oak tree. One is all the physical realities that come from the fact that everything that makes the oak is in the acorn seed and will come out if it gets into good soil, AND the "future" oak that doesn't yet exist that wants to reach its full potential and thus pulls the acorn and its innards along the process. She wonders if the voice she heard in the bathroom was perhaps this new balanced and more fully at peace and stronger version of herself pulling herself forward into the fullness of her potential. That feeling you have right now is called a Hindu headache, grasshopper. :)
Agree, disagree, think amongst yourselfs(in case you haven't figured this one out I disagree). However, the most thought provoking part of the book for me came smack in the middle in chapter 57. It comes just after a very important moment for our leading lady in her guru's ashram in India.
Elizabeth has a very powerful spiritual experience(a couple of spiritual experiences actually), and this is the watershed moment for her. Everything flows forward out of these hours and days. During this chapter, Ms. Gilbert makes some fairly dogmatic statements about the nature of faith as she sees it. "faith is not rational.....if faith were rational it wouldn't be by definition, faith. Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch...."
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a Mormon a few years ago on a plane to Dallas(it will be a meaningful tangent, just hang with me a minute). He was explaining to me his religious convictions, and I was listening because I was genuinely interested in the inner workings of the whole Mormon thing, but finally, I began to challenge him about specifics within his faith in what I hope was a very measured and respectful way. The conversation remained very friendly and cordial all the way through with only a few more tense moments, but he eventually always retreated back to what the Mormons call the "burning in the bosom." This connotes a meaningful spiritual experience that seems to signify a real spiritual happening, and for him, this trumps anything I can toss at him in the way of reason or objective problems that exist with his religious beliefs and his religion as a whole. The only thing I knew to tell him was this. I was raised in Pentecostal churches, and I know a thing or two about spiritual experiences. The short version of what I mean by that is that I realized that some of the spiritual experiences I was witnessing or even some I had myself were almost certainly not God at work. This realization caused me to have to seriously reevaluate some things, but I believe the realization was a profound gift from God.
Being a follower of Christ is a belief system that is filled with external checks. The Bible constantly sets itself up to be tested historically, ethically, experientially, scientifically, etc. It is a faith that is firmly rooted in our story and in our existence. It is not some abstract thing that cannot be appreciated outside some spiritual state of mind. Religions that seek to coerce its followers into chunking reason for faith are trying to convince that faith is not faith unless you do that.....unless you bet your eternal destiny on a spiritual experience or a series of spiritual experiences, but God begs to be empirically verified constantly. I can back this up if anyone is interested, but my point is that faith means just what it means when you claim to have faith in your spouse or your father or the pilot of the airplane you are flying in. Faith in God means the same or at least similar things as these examples. Badee.....badee......dats all folks.