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Rugged pathway

15 March 2013

Denise Inge considers convictions about life born out of suffering


Dazzling Darkness: Gender, sexuality, illness and God
Rachel Mann
Wild Goose £11.50
Church Times Bookshop £10.35 (Use code CT618 )

THIS is not a comfortable book to read. In it, the author, who describes herself as a trans, lesbian, disabled, and chronically ill person, makes her confession, beginning with a five-year-old boy's cherished yellow Tonka truck, and ending with a middle-aged woman strolling the seedy end of Stourport. Through gender dysmorphia, conversion to faith, sex-reassignment surgery, and ordination, Mann charts a growing experience of God, as the God who is unconditional love becomes God who suffers alongside, and finally God who gives voice to the broken and marginalised.

Her title quotes Vaughan's "There is in God (some say) A deep but dazzling darkness", apposite lines, since her story, told in language often itself poetic, travels from initial euphoria of first faith into a "darkness of possibility, like the darkness before the world began". Ultimately, for her, Christian life is not so much about being consoled as being stripped bare, naked before God and unashamed.

Critics of religion often see faith as a panacea, but the author insists that truth is not comfortable and rarely comforting. Being in the company of God is about real and often brutal honesty. She wrestles with God and images of God, confessing that, in words of Belden Lane, "grace comes sometimes like a kick in the teeth, leaving us broken, wholly unable any longer to deny our need."

Mann's determination to voice a particular journey occasionally leads to defensiveness; and, because she outgrew it, she dismisses the kind of Christianity that nurtured her early faith; but this is a book full of brave insights, born of the wisdom of suffering. "We all create myths for ourselves," Mann writes, admitting that all tellings of one's life are selective. This engaging book also exposes myths, and its greatest strength lies in its convincing challenge to the myth of a comfortable God.

Dr Denise Inge is Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Worcester, and a Thomas Traherne specialist.

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