Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005
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*****Leaving the Saints

How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith

by Martha Beck

Reviewed March 29, 2005.
Crown Publishers, New York, 2005.  306 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (MCN B BEC).
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005 (#1, Biography)

I loved Martha Beck’s earlier book, Expecting Adam, about the miraculous things that happened to her while she was expecting her second child, who was autistic.  After that experience, Martha decided she wanted to get back to her spiritual roots and go home to Utah, where at least she wouldn’t be surrounded by people who thought she should have aborted Adam.

After her family was settled in Utah, she began experiencing vivid flashbacks of horrible abuse her father had inflicted on her when she was a child.  Her father is a pillar in the Mormon church.  She was also teaching part-time at Brigham Young University as a sociologist.  Her speaking up on feminist issues as well as her refusal to keep silent about the abuse meant she had to leave the church and the state of Utah.

At the same time, she continued to have powerful spiritual experiences of God’s unconditional love.  As she was leaving her childhood church, she felt closer to God than ever.

The book is wonderfully well-written, with every other chapter covering a time years later when she confronted her father.  She came to a place where she could understand what had gone into her father’s choices—He had been abused by his mother and had post-traumatic stress syndrome from WWII.  At about the time of his abuse of Martha, he had been chosen by the church to study Egyptology—to defend the church when the very papyri were discovered that Joseph Smith claimed to have “translated” to write The Pearl of Great Price.  It appeared that his choice to lie for the church—and keep his job—helped contribute to his mind going over the edge.

The story is presented with suspense, showing her process of discovering what had happened, dealing with it, and making the difficult decision to leave the church.

I like it when I feel that God has brought into my life exactly the book I need to read at exactly the right time.  This book moved me deeply and fit in perfectly with the book My Descent into Death, by Howard Storm, which I reviewed in the last issue of Sonderbooks.  Martha Beck again had a near-death experience during her third pregnancy and again it gave her a sense of God’s unconditional love.   Their respective experiences led Howard Storm to become a pastor and Martha Beck to leave her church, but both people testify to how strongly they came to believe that God loves us deeply and unconditionally, though He still allows us to make bad choices and bear consequences for them.

I like these words from Martha Beck, when her husband decided to leave the church before she did:  “One thing we had both come to believe was that each person’s path to God is unique, that we all follow a slightly different trajectory as Leaves in the great Stream, and that each human being’s operating instructions are therefore different.”

This book gave me a gentle nudge along my own trajectory toward God, and for that I am grateful.

Reviews of other books by Martha Beck:
Expecting Adam
Steering by Starlight

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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