Myrna Smith opens her story one Sunday night when she returns home from a ski weekend with her three children. While she was on the slopes, her husband had moved out. That had been the plan. She feeds their children and puts them to bed before taking an inventory of all the items he’d taken:
“I made my way down the hall to check the closet there. The familiar smell of leather from his black and white high school letter jacket did not greet me. The closet was half empty.”
Yet her story, though it encompasses her divorce, is much larger. Ultimately, Smith sets out to love herself, to find an inner place where she can rest and grow.
In this search-for-the-holy-grail memoir, Smith traces her travels toward enlightenment as a middle-aged American woman with a wry humor and heartfelt longing. On the journey she discovers spiritual fulfillment doesn’t come easily, or all at once. For her, it is quite elusive.
The quest really started, she realizes, in her childhood on an Oregon farm where she and her older sister were once “converted” in their father’s pea patch by two young Bible summer school teachers barely out of their teens. The school was part of the tiny church their mother attended while their father stayed home, read Edgar Cayce books, and mused on reincarnation. Smith writes:
“My family provided numerous religious paths to follow, which was one of the reasons it became so difficult for me to choose one. Religion dominated my family; it was the family business. I, however, wanted the family to be in real business or at least find a way out of poverty.”
Drawn by the mysticism of the Hindus, her journey leads to Bangalore where she touches the robes of Sai Baba, the Indian saint, and observes him producing ashes out of thin air. Back home in New Jersey, she finds herself in a country farmhouse getting prescriptions channeled through a medium for everything from her back woes and diarrhea to an obsession with money. They work.
Smith recounts the time she left a Japanese-style zendo when the staff insisted she get down on her hands and knees and wash the floor. She also writes of the demons that surface during a years-long love affair with her beloved Charlie and what A Course in Miracles stirred within her.
God and Other Men is not about being struck by a lightning bolt and forever changed. Smith’s story is one of adventure and effort that, in the end, reveals three simple yet essential truths that are both the journey and the destination. It’s an account of a long, slow sojourn into the peaceful chambers of the heart — the way most of us actually arrive.