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Souls in Full Sail

Souls in Full Sail: A Christian Spirituality for the Later Years 
by Emilie Griffin
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010
180 pages
Reviewed by Linda Douty

Thanks to modern science, our life spans are lengthening. In many cases, however, our extended years outdistance our wisdom. This book helps to close that gap.

Accomplished writer Emilie Griffin invites us to view this stage of life through the metaphor of a voyage, complete with the sea changes particular to the later years. She writes, “It is a voyage, but there is no map, no clear style of navigation. We have settled, figuratively at least, into our deck chairs; we have pulled the blankets up against cold and the ocean spray. We are both the passengers and navigators for this late-in-life adventure” (12). Hence the very appropriate title, Souls in Full Sail.

The author’s lyrical prose is expressed in a distinctly Christian context, taking for granted the reader’s familiarity with and belief in the Christian biblical tradition. In addition to a multitude of meaningful scripture passages (many from the King James Version of the Bible), the book relies on the writings of famous theological figures, from C. S. Lewis to Saint Augustine. Griffin’s extensive knowledge of literature and poetry enrich almost every page.

Reared in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, she acquaints us with the genteel culture and companions that shaped her early years. Fascinating stories of her colorful past include the influence of her mother, a legendary entrepreneur and founder of three businesses during an era when the feminine ranks were slim.
She explores late life challenges and changes by weaving together her family story with her Christian story in a way that will resonate with many readers. Griffin examines the issues of growing in prayer, living the cross, and encountering resurrection in very personal terms, but always through the lens of traditional Christian teaching. She views the task of growing in Christ as one of the primary goals of the latter years: “I see clearly now that I have to make a deeper commitment to God, offering him not a day, a week, a season, but everything that I am. It is time to work out tough questions, the ‘unfinished business’ in my relationship with God. I understand there are some issues I have been avoiding. These are things I’ve glossed over, knotty problems I have run away from, hurts I can’t handle.…  It is not as though I were asked to clear a space in my calendar; no. It is God’s calendar, not mine” (69–70).

The book is peppered with poetic phrases that prompt the reader’s imagination to connect with her or his own experience. Expressions such as “the Mondayness of things” (140), “criss-crossed by cobwebs of experience” (20), and “the ganged-up responsibilities of living” (147) add literary life to the pages. 

For readers and spiritual directees who are grounded in Christianity and feel comfortable with patriarchal language for God, this book provides a meaningful map for navigating a sea that must be crossed by faith. Griffin’s way with words helps to steer the reader across those late-life sea changes like a “soul in full sail.”

Linda Douty is a spiritual director and retreat leader living in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. She is the author of two new books, Praying in the Messiness of Life: 7 Ways to Reconnect to God and How Did I Get to Be 70 When I'm 35 Inside?: Spiritual Surprises of Later Life.

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