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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: Field Notes for the Wilderness by Sarah Bessey 
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I was only a few pages into Sarah Bessey's "Field Notes for the Wilderness: Practices for an Evolving Faith" when I shed my first tear.

It wouldn't be my last.

In fact, I cried often throughout "Field Notes for the Wilderness," the latest book from the popular Christian author and blogger who is also co-founder of the Evolving Faith conference and podcast.

I first became familiar with Bessey via social media, her warm yet direct spirit appealing to me and my few encounters with her affirming my sense that she's what my Kentucky relatives would call "good people."

I must confess, however, that my tears while reading "Field Notes for the Wilderness" weren't always entirely because of a response to the direct subject. Instead, this "wilderness" that Bessey writes of feels very connected to the last few years of my life as I've lost a limb, experienced bladder cancer (and lost the bladder), experienced prostate cancer (and lost the prostate), acquired a new urostomy, lost my brother, lost my brother, and lost my best friend all within the past four years.

I have, quite honestly, felt very disconnected and very much like I'm wandering.

Into this wandering, I began encountering different writers - some Christian, some not. These included Bessey, Nadia Bolz-Weber, the late Rachel Held Evans, Beth Allison Barr, and even Miroslav Volf (whom I affectionately call my favorite theologian).

"Field Notes for the Wilderness" essentially plops us down in the midst of our deconstruction of faith, really an evolving of faith (evolving being a term I find more inclusive and accurate in my case), and nurtures our faith, our curiosity, and our desire to live into our beliefs that haven't always had space in organized religion.

Bessey writes about practicing wonder and curiosity as spiritual disciplines, mothering ourselves with compassion and empathy, making space for lament (I cried a lot here) and righteous rage (I probably should have been angry here, but I cried some more), finding good (and in my case healthy) spiritual teachers, and moving toward what we are "for" in this life.

Bessey isn't a prescriptive author. She certainly writes what has worked for her, however, her writing presents itself as more companion and mentor than anything else. She's the kind of author you want to run into at a conference (sadly, I never have) and she strikes me as a safe space for one to confess that ever-evolving faith (and we sure need those safe spaces).

By the end of "Field Notes for the Wilderness," I felt heard. I felt seen. I felt nurtured. I felt fed. There is one line, the very last line (at least in my ARC Galley of her book) of chapter 16 that still leaves me in tears every single time I think about it.

Available with a companion guided journal (and I strongly recommend reading the book first), "Field Notes for the Wilderness" feels like that unexpected creek you find when you're wandering in the wilderness.

"Field Notes for the Wilderness" is Bessey at her very best, a coach and mentor and friend for an evolving faith offering presence, nurture, coaching, mentoring, a few gentle nudges, and a whole lot of love.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic