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In The Shaping of a Life, Phyllis Tickle recounts her life with honesty and humor, richly conveying both the external events and the internal insights and emotions. As Tickle chronicles her deepening understanding of prayer and the rewards of marriage, family, and spiritual life, she reaches across the boundaries that separate one denomination from another and presents a portrait of spiritual growth and transformation that will appeal to devout practitioners and their less religious neighbors as well. Within a very personal story, Tickle reveals the keys that will help readers of all faiths find the path that leads from the everyday world of “doing” to the special place of simply “being.” Phyllis Tickle's exquisite memoir Shaping a Life ranges across a sweeping Southern landscape where we see the events--highly dramatic and tenderly simple--that shaped her esteemed spiritual life. (Tickle, author of The Divine Hours, is a contributing editor on religion for Publisher's Weekly and is one of America's most respected authorities on religion.) When we first meet Tickle, she is a highly imaginative only child growing up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee in the 1930s. By the end of the book we have followed her through the formative days of college, her migration into the Episcopal Church, and into some of her most riveting moments as a young wife and public school teacher in the 1950s.
Tickle has the wisdom of a mature storyteller as well as the humility of a spiritual seeker. She makes meaning out of the smallest details, showing us how a backyard forsythia bush became a sacred hiding place, foreshadowing her lifelong compulsion to find private sanctuaries. We meet her gentle mother, who made a daily ritual out of reading a magazine, manicuring her nails and studying the Bible. This, she concludes, influenced Tickle's adult attraction to the daily psalms. Even the way she sneaked cigarettes in her college dorm offers insight into the nature of her Christian yearnings.
Some of her scenes are utterly gripping, like her near-death experience after having an adverse reaction to an anti-miscarriage drug. "Without a care for anything that had ever been or ever was or ever might be, I lifted toward the light as lithely as if I had been a sparrow upon the courses of the early morning wind." Throughout the memoir we are held in this kind of lilting narration. Like a feminine version of Pat Conroy, Tickle is a strong, descriptive author who thoroughly appreciates how Southern landscapes, family, marriage, and death can shape a character as well as a spirit. --Gail Hudson
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