Faith Evolving: A Patchwork Journey
by Trish McBride
Wellington, NZ; 2nd edition, PA McBride, 2007
Reviewed by Janet Ruffing, RSM, PhD
Trish McBride, wife, mother, widow, grandmother, counselor, chaplain, and spiritual director offers her readers a patchwork narrative encompassing thirty years of her faith journey. An offhand remark by a spiritual director about the dearth of longitudinal studies of spiritual development led McBride to assemble a patchwork collection of many of her essays published in New Zealand journals and newspapers together with her more personal poetry and reflections written during retreats and other prayer experiences. Divided into three sections—Clothes Line Theology 1974-1986, After That 1987-1994, and Turangawaewae 1995-2005—each patch gradually fits together until one can sense the continuities and discontinuities running through her life. McBride very loosely correlates her experiences with the latter stages of Fowler’s stages of faith development. The writing is intensely personal, and includes short pieces of contextual theology rooted in the particular and stunning landscapes, culture, and symbols of New Zealand.
McBride’s story is at once every woman’s, and at the same time uniquely her own. Like many women, her life has not been easy. Married to an abusive, alcoholic husband who eventually died while driving intoxicated, she survived ten pregnancies (five of which she was able to bring to term), raised a foster child who joined them when her first baby was an infant, and after being widowed she suffered clergy sexual abuse in a counseling situation. Throughout her years of raising children, she was very active in the Roman Catholic Church, engaged in profound reflections theologically, spiritually, and poetically on her relationship with Jesus and her incarnational experiences, which she titled, “Clothes-Line Theology.” The death of McBride’s husband led her into an experience of complicated grief since others were so unaware of the effects of his drinking on her and the family. She eventually began full time professional ministry as an industrial chaplain, and in the latter third of her life into offering spiritual direction. Her narrative unfolds, in bits and pieces, with many gaps, yet always suggestive that growth, development, and transformation are underway.
With intense feelings, McBride graphically presents the importance of therapeutic assistance, Al-Anon, and the need women who have suffered similar challenges have for both gradual and long-term psychological and spiritual healing. Her fierce poetry and tenacious faith reveal a profound relationship with Jesus as the bedrock of her spiritual journey even as her theology and experience of the Trinity underwent, of necessity, a feminist transformation. The additional complications of her experience of clergy sexual abuse in a counseling situation and the antifeminist theology and behavior of the Roman Catholic church led her evolving faith to seek other spiritual communities, first turning to the Quakers and then to feminist Christian communities as her primary location for “church.”
McBride’s writing is richly evocative, drawing on both her personal life and ministerial experience with others—especially in her work with abused women and work for reform within churches to repair the harm done by clergy offenders. Very often, the split that so often occurs between public proclamation and private pastoral care complicates the healing process for women. I recommend McBride’s book, especially to anyone struggling with addiction in marriage or family, low self-esteem and poor body image resulting from abuse, depression, grief and loss related to miscarriage, or complicated decisions around life-threatening pregnancies. Readers will find both hope and practical information about the process of healing, the deepening of faith through adversity, local resources and supports available in New Zealand, and multiple images in McBride’s poetry that will mirror her own experience. Through Faith Evolving, spiritual directors may also deepen their understanding of directees with similar experiences.
Janet Ruffing, RSM, PhD is professor of spirituality and spiritual direction at Fordham University in Bronx, New York, USA. She is the author of Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings, Uncovering Stories of Faith: Spiritual Direction and Narrative, and the Selected Writings of Elisabeth Leseur. She is one of the founding members of Spiritual Directors International and recently gave workshops in New Zealand and Australia on spiritual direction and love mysticism.