Philip Yancey – Where the light fell: a memoir
ISBN 978 1 5293 6 4224
I remember seeing Philip Yancey on his What’s So Amazing about Grace book tour.
Yancey is a brilliant and engaging storyteller. His many books have usually showcased the stories of others, providing vivid pen-portraits of a constellation of fascinating lives.
This book by contrast is a personal memoir of his early life, and a cathartic outpouring of a catalogue of pain. I can understand why it has taken him so long to commit this story to paper. It could not have been easy for him to invite his readers into a previously unseen world of loss, conflict, prejudice, stigma and eventually light.
The author of Disappointment with God indicates that he has many reasons to be disappointed with human beings too. This story charts the author’s origins in the American Deep South, that was characterised by racism, segregation, fundamentalism and religious bigotry.
“I explore the topic of pain in my writing because many who suffer receive more confusion than comfort, especially from the church.”
“The wounds of faith embed like permanent tattoos.”
At times when reading this book, I felt as if I was looking right through the lenses of the author’s eyes. The account is fresh, vivid and compelling.
“A memoir is a kind of verbal selfie, with one figure in the foreground reflecting that person’s singular point of view.”
Although this story has never been told before, it is the unwritten subtext of many of Yancey’s provocative writings. So the author also wrestles with the pain he may have inflicted with some of his writings that contain many penetrating critiques of the people, churches and institutions that shaped his early life.
For some of the people with whom Yancey seeks to make amends, it a matter of “Too little too late.” Yet there are some small signs of hoped for change, even his mother (in her late 90s) who has up to now steadfastly refused to read any of her famous son’s books.
This is not an easy title to read, but it is worth reading. The book will be useful if we do not keep saying: “How could they?!” but rather ask: “in what ways have I failed to show people the grace of God, in my attitudes, words and actions?”
John Woods is a writer and Bible teacher based in West Sussex. He is Director of Training at The School of Preachers in Riga, Latvia.