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Carolyn Arends
[ living the questions ]

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Living the Questions - Click to view!Surely there's another book like it, but even I, an ardent reader, can't name any work so free, precise, and real as Living the Questions. The outlook of Carolyn Arends is contagious: don't quench doubts or fears or routine, for therein lies mystery (meaning God revealing Himself). All this sounds lofty, though, compared to the way Arends herself puts it... chapter one takes place in a kindergarten coat-hanging closet, chapter four in bed with Carolyn nearly suffocated by two coal-black cats, chapter nine in a nursing home where a mother-in-law suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Everyday stuff, yet profound as hashed out by this disarming Canadian.

A most revealing autobiography, Arends has no problem relating things like the date where a boyfriend makes her laugh, causing a sudden surge of Coca-Cola through her nose; or her mother's speech on cleaning up a pond, cut short by her face-first fall into it. Such embarrassing asides not only establish an immediate connection with readers, but illustrate Arends's points in the more serious passages. Parallels between setting up altars (an Old Testament practice) and remembering specific events are drawn: "...you have to remember the things that happen--especially those moments when it becomes clear that God has remembered you--so you don't forget everything that matters."

So storytelling abounds, always turning up God's fingerprints within the catastrophe and tragedy. Like an engaging film, more lessons are imparted through emotions and scenes than stuffy lectures. Flimsy admissions ("The more I get to know God, the more He scares me") make up Arends's prose, and that honesty alone has the power to change. Fullness is running inside during a storm, reveling in music like Rich Mullins's, and bumping smack into telephone poles. "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly," reads one G.K. Chesterton quote.

Witty, well-grounded quotations are another high point of Living the Questions, from sources as diverse as C.S. Lewis, Paul Simon, and the Word of God. Arends never feels it necessary to offer up philosophy on life's mess and mystery when another has already said it so well. Literary disinterest occurs only when Carolyn gets too lost in her own trances, giving situations a female, touchy-feely bent. Often that perspective gives the most color and humor to Arends' tales, but it occasionally falls short. Small criticisms aside, the adventure called life gets a fun, belief-drenched spin from Carolyn Arends, a gifted writer who truly is Living the Questions.
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