Is Anybody Out There?

In late 1993, Lindsey Crittenden’s younger brother Blake was shot in the head and killed in what was probably a drug deal gone bad. In her new book, The Water Will Hold You: A Skeptic Learns to Pray, she writes about the moment she said goodbye to her only sibling, the boy she had named as a child. As she lay with him on his deathbed, her forehead pressed to his chest, she felt “the strongest love I’ve ever known. A moment of pure, transcendent grace.” Although she didn’t know it then, this moment would become the first step on the path to a spiritual life.

“I’m resisting saying [prayer] is something he gave me because I don’t know,” she says from her apartment in San Francisco, where she is preparing for the March publication of her book. “Without the experience at his deathbed I wouldn’t have stumbled into it like I did, but I like to think there is something in my personality that is drawn to being contemplative. It’s not as neat as saying that because my brother died I started praying. But in a way, it gave me permission.”

Although her memoir is about learning to pray and finding her way back to the Episcopal faith of her childhood, Crittenden hesitates to call herself a spiritual writer. “When I was working on the book and people would ask what I was writing about I wouldn’t want to say ‘I’m writing about prayer’; [I thought,] oh God, they’re going to think I’m a fundamentalist or preachy or something,” she says. “The term doesn’t make me cringe like it used to, but I don’t say I’m a spiritual writer; I say I’m a writer.”
Indeed, Crittenden, who previously had a collection of short stories published, brings a thoughtful and literary voice to her memoir, which entwines her tentative journey into religion and prayer with the story of her family and her life. It is an extremely personal book, one that chronicles the grief, loneliness and anxiety that first led her through the doors of All Souls Episcopal Church in Berkeley when she would have preferred to “go buy the New York Times, [and] sit at Katz’s over a plate of eggs like a normal person on a Sunday morning.”

But while its subject is serious, it is not a grim book. Crittenden’s ability to step back from her own life allows her to see the humor in her situation and honestly chronicle her journey from total skeptic and nonbeliever to someone for whom prayer and a belief in God are part of each day.

Even now, as someone who attends church regularly and has what she calls “an ongoing relationship with prayer,” she sometimes resists calling herself religious. “There was—and still is—a part of me that is a little hesitant to mention it, because for better or for worse, there is an association between being religious and being conservative, closed-minded and fundamentalist. When I [mention] it, people either step away from me or they get all shiny-eyed and suggest we go to church together. But if I say I’m coming to prayer as a skeptic, they understand it more. That is the key—that I had been skeptical and remain skeptical.”

Lindsey Crittenden will be reading from The Water Will Hold You at Book Passage in Corte Madera on Sunday, April 15, at 2 p.m. Call 415.927.0960 for more information.


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Of Love and Other Demons  by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“No one does love stories like Garcia Marquez. This one tells of a priest who falls in love with a young girl thought to be possessed by the devil. I read it on an airplane, and wept like a baby at the end. Very embarrassing.”   —Kevin Ryan, Green Apple Books, San Francisco

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
“I liked this because it combines a conventional love story with a bit of metaphysical fantasy. A wonderful read.”   —Debra Hammond, The Book Depot

Dream Angus   by Alexander McCall Smith
“It’s part of a series of books based on myths. Great writers like Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson have writtenfor it. This book is based on Angus, the Celtic god of dreams. It’s just wonderful, not airy-fairy at all—really narrative. I read it in one night.”   —Sheryl Cotleur, Book Passage