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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: The Book of Common Courage by K.J. Ramsey 
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Have you ever had an artist who always seems to arrive when you need them the most?

Creativity has always been an integral part of both my faith journey and my healing journey. So, I suppose, it's unsurprising that I have at times found myself drawn to similarly inspired creative spirits who resonate with my soul.

Artists like folk/Americana singer John Hiatt, cartoonist John Callahan, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman have been a few of those artists whose entire careers seem to resonate deeply within me.

My faith journey has always been an interesting one. From being raised Jehovah's Witness to being kicked out of a Vineyard Christian Fellowship congregation to my time spent as an ordained minister in a New Thought congregation to my years in licensed Church of the Brethren ministry, I have long found both peace and frustration within my faith journey and within the world of organized religion.

For anyone who has followed my reviews and my writing for any length of time, it's no secret that I was born with spina bifida and have lived far beyond my life expectancy. Having had well over 50 surgeries before I was 21, I went through a relatively lengthy period without having any major medical issues before a few years ago when the difficulties of aging with spina bifida, double amputation, and a myriad of other issues became a challenge.

In 2019, I was hospitalized with dehydration and a serious infection that resulted in further limb loss. I'm now a below-knee and above-knee amputee in addition to the existing challenges of life with spina bifida. I started over in terms of learning life skills, no small challenge considering I have a relatively small circle and most people were encouraging me to "just go on Disability."

Um, no.

As a longtime person of faith, I found myself on occasion reaching out those whose writings, music, or social media presence had inspired me. This included such diverse creatives as Nadia Bolz-Weber, the band Rend Collective, theologian Miroslav Volf, and several other writers.

In the midst of it all, I discovered K.J. Ramsey.

You knew I'd eventually get to this book, right?

As I shared in my review of her book "This Too Shall Last," I discovered Ramsey rather accidentally when she happened to "like" my review of Rachel Held Evans' "Wholehearted Faith." Having been unaware of her prior to that moment, I began following her on social media and read her first book.

It was refreshing to have an author not try to change me because, quite honestly, there's so much of my life that will never change. If I'm not okay with God now, I'll likely never be okay with God because, quite simply, this is me.

I am a sexual abuse survivor and sexual assault survivor as an adult.

I am a widow who lost both my wife and newborn.

I am a disabled adult with a myriad of health issues.

I am an adult who once (okay, more than once) tried suicide and comically failed.

I sometimes think that my middle initial should be T instead of D because it feels like trauma is my middle name.

Quite simply, Ramsey has become one of "those" authors for me. She's a literary lighthouse whose writings seem to come along at exactly the right time. With "The Book of Common Courage: Prayers and Poems to Find Strength in Small Moments," I began reading not long after my holiday season was interrupted by a diagnosis of bladder cancer.

I assumed this was Santa's way of saying I was on the naughty list.

Since my late 2019 hospitalization and amputation, life has been a weird kaleidoscope of awesome achievements and heartbreaking losses. My mother, only brother, and one of my dearest friends have all died in the past three years. I've had smaller health issues and a seemingly endless array of wound care issues.

Yet, I've also been promoted at work, received several awards for activism, had a film festival start an award in my name, and officiated my goddaughter's wedding.

Weird and wonderful.

The cancer diagnosis hit hard. I've always lived with the idea of death hanging over me, however, this felt like it was knocking on my door. I'd only recently joined a new church and I felt incredibly overwhelmed while also remaining optimistic.

I must confess that I found myself in tears on page one of "The Book of Common Courage," a collection of prayers, poems, and blessings designed to serve as a companion for life's small and big moments. Both an author and a trauma-informed licensed professional counselor, Ramsey's weakness is her strength as she guides our journey through Psalm 23 as we experience God's presence meeting us wherever we are at.

As is always true for Ramsey, this is not a step-by-step guide toward change because as Ramsey herself knows our circumstances don't always change in life. "The Book of Common Courage" is a warm embrace from a literary friend who understands both significant health concerns and the world of dysfunctional, abusive organized religion. It is possible as a writer to truly hold space for your reader and this is what Ramsey accomplishes with "The Book of Common Courage," a book that is beautifully designed, magnificently illustrated, and written in language that vulnerable, compassionate, bridge-building, and absolutely inspired.

"The Book of Common Courage" works as much for individual reflection as it would for a group experience. It's the kind of book that comes to life in different ways for different people, each subsequent reading (and I've already read it three times) revealing new gems and touching me in entirely different ways.

"The Book of Common Courage" is a reminder that we are invited by God to surrender our true selves and our true life experiences. We are reminded that our emotions, our traumas, and our dramas are all sacred and holy. Yet, it's also a reminder to open ourselves to the restoration of God and good in our lives. "The Book of Common Courage" invites us into an authentic prayer life and into a journey with God that allows for our hurts to be fully present with us and to know that God doesn't go away.

If you're like me, you've likely experienced way too much going away.

As I gathered at an Indianapolis cancer center earlier this week for a surgery that would begin to reveal the next steps to be taken in this latest health challenge, I gathered feeling a greater peace and a little less alone for this journey that feels so profound and overwhelming that sometimes I can't help but feel alone even in a crowded room. With her trademark theological insights and fierce compassion, Ramsey holds space for those who can't quite see the light and for those who can, in turn, both give and receive the light to one another.

With tenderness and wonder, "The Book of Common Courage" equips us to have the courage to believe and the courage to love one another.

And so it is.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic