Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: The Place of Knowing by Emma Lou Warner Thayne

Title: The Place of Knowing: A Spiritual Autobiography
Author: Emma Lou Warner Thayne
Enjoyment Rating:
Referral: Emma Lou Thayne was the keynote speaker at the Mormon Women Project salon and I bought the book after hearing her wonderful speech.
Source: Ordered new from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 154

After I listened to Emma Lou Thayne share some of her life experiences at the Mormon Women Project salon in November, I rushed right home and ordered her book. She talked about her life in a way that was both traditional and surprising for an eightysomething Mormon matriarch. For example, she spoke about being on the Young Women General Board and about her long and successful marriage to her husband, and she also said that his approach to their marriage reminded her of his approach to teaching her to waterski-- he gave her enough rope and enough firmness to help her up out of the water. But she also talked about some of the difficult experiences in her life like her daughter's struggle with bipolar disorder which provided the inspiration for her hymn "Where Can I Turn for Peace?" and about an accident she had in the 1980s and the woman who read her aura who revealed to her that she had actually died briefly after the accident.

When I started The Place of Knowing, I wasn't surprised that Thayne used the story of the accident to frame her spiritual autobiography, because she says that she eventually came to realize that her purpose in having that experience was to share it with others, and to talk about her journey to the place of "childness." While the book definitely feels more like an autobiography than a memoir, since it attempts to hit the highlights of Thayne's entire life, it's more reflective and analytical than many autobiographies. The chapters also deal with subjects, not with chronology, so we have chapter four "Living with the Ineffable" in which she talks about sleep, her accident, her need for solitude, her time at writing camps, and trying to meet the needs of her family and her need to write. The chapter also includes half a dozen poems interspersed with the text, which shouldn't come as a surprise to those who know Thayne primarily as a poet.

I came to admire Thayne for her inclusiveness and her ability to see the spiritual in aspects of her life that many of us, plodding from meeting to meeting, checking scripture study and family prayer off our lists, do not make room in our schedules and our hearts for. I had to resist the urge to skip through the poetry-- when I'm reading a story, I want to get on with the story, not stop to read a poem, but I found that when I did take the time to read the poems, I could usually see why Thayne felt that that particular poem said what she wanted to say better than prose would. The book jacket says that the book is for those "who desire a better understanding of his or her divine self" and through reading about Thayne's experiences, I felt that I might be more open to including a greater variety of spiritual experiences in my own life.

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