Amazing Grace: A Surprising Journey of Self Discovery While Wearing Someone Else’s Shoes / by Alison M. Newcomb

 Photo by John Baker

Photo by John Baker

I am not sure what I was expecting when I first picked up Erin Loechner’s new book, Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path—but what I read was profoundly unexpected. Late last year, I was doing research for an article I was writing about Minimalism and I ran across Loechner’s book in a suggested reading list on the website No Sidebar.* Yet what I found between the book’s hard covers was so much bigger than the full body of my research on that one topic.

The words I read in this book seemed to somehow articulate the very same complexities and life challenges that were overcrowding my own mind. Contradictions and missing answers, rising up in my thoughts at the same time and bumping roughly against one another, stuck just below the surface, without definition or the right words to release them. Reading Chasing Slow loosened the pressure valve on these word-orphaned thoughts in my head and cleared space for a new sense of clarity and a deeply changed perspective.

Part memoir...

part magic.

Chasing Slow  is “officially” categorized under Religion/Spirituality but, after reading it, I don’t think a category or bookstore section exists for this book. If pressed to slap a label on it, I would say that it is part memoir, part lifestyle guide, part magic. Which I realize does not help pinpoint exactly where to find it in Barnes & Noble.

Loechner has a unique, subtle wit that can draw a wry smile or outright belly laugh from her reader. Moreover she is a masterful writer who can turn her words with gentle precision. As I was devouring her book, I found myself writing snippets of her prose on Post-It notes so I wouldn’t forget to read them all aloud to my husband when he got home (just to be clear, this is not a common habit of mine).

Chasing Slow stands out among its comparison titles for reasons beyond Loechner’s way with words. I have read most of the authors that Amazon’s algorithms will suggest as comparable to it and, with the exception of Brene Brown, I have been left feeling empty-handed by the rest, without the wisdom all the blurbs had promised. These “similar” titles merely grasp at pieces and parts, while Loechner, without falling back on oversimplified platitudes or universal definitions, is able to bring life’s disparate loose ends to a satisfying place of closure and peace. 

Authenticity > Productivity

I first encountered Erin Loechner as a voice for the Minimalism movement. While I found much more than this in Chasing Slow, she does manage to take the construct of Minimalism and redeem it through exposing its weak spots (which she fell victim to, just like the rest of us).

Her succinct, but powerful, summary of that redemption:

Here’s the secret to subtraction. It doesn’t matter what you remove. What matters is that you stop adding back

I am drawn to a minimalist aesthetic, almost compulsively, as way to regain control, only to then make more room for clutter (both physical and mental). I’ve read all the books, emptied and reorganized all the spaces in our house, yet continue to find myself grasping for the next iteration that promises to “stick this time”.

Productivity

(with a capital P)

Here’s how the message about minimalism in Chasing Slow is different from others:

It does not simply swap out our culture’s dominant metric for living a full life—Productivity (with a capital P), that multitasking, she-can-do-everything-perfectly-all-at-the-same-time octopus that has kept us on our toes and over-caffeinated for decades—for a different, more efficient variety. The book recognizes human tendency to unwittingly corrupt a novel concept, no matter how pure its message. To take the Cliff’s Notes version and hop back on the treadmill, continually pushing out the recognition that all of this noise, and hustle, and happiness, and heartache—all of this life—is just temporary. 

Erin Loechner's personal story is one of early success and the external illusion of doing and having it all. But from the inside her story is rooted in the daily reminder of the brevity of life and the ever-looming gavel of our mortality. This is, of course, a reality for every human being. But Loechner chooses a life in which she cannot ignore that fact when she marries a man with a terminal brain tumor. Her very tangible, yet indefinite, daily reminder of this fact is so much more visceral a metaphor. Perhaps that is one thing that makes her story so compelling and vivid, and at the same time self-reflexive. Her writing voice is unique, yet also makes room for the reader’s own self-discovery, as we follow along with her to retrace her steps through time up through today.

When cast against the backdrop of our vulnerable humanity, the value in the benchmarks we’ve been chasing becomes unclear. What is the value of productivity if it doesn’t free up more time for what we truly value in life? Why invest the time in becoming an efficient minimalist machine if it will not sustain space for more joy?

Finding Yourself in Her Words

Out of all there is to take from Erin Loechner’s masterful book, the thing I am most grateful for was the biggest surprise—the heart-opening change in my own perspective that came from reading it. I am still unsure of the exact mechanics of how her words brought about such personal epiphany. I am unable to concretely define the mechanisms Loechner might have used to make this possible. But I have some ideas. 

I have long sought answers in books to those word-orphaned tensions in my mind. And while I have found some clarity in the words of authors like Brene Brown, the majority of what I have read has fallen short of my expectations, often due to their oversimplification or unconvincing, yet resolute, certainty. 

The funny thing is there is a significant lack of certainty in Chasing Slow. Loechner does not claim to have all the answers, because nobody does. So how does this admission of life’s lack of certainty somehow brings a sense of peace and comfort? 

Last year, I read a book that is on the list of "If you liked Chasing Slow, you’ll love this book" titles. I remember putting it down, not just in disappointment but in hot anger, with only two chapters left to finish. The author had captured me early on and I read in great anticipation as the storyline approached the point of discovery. Her story and struggles felt so real and familiar, riddled with the troubling contradictions we all live with. And I felt like the book was leading up to something real. But somehow, between pages 215-220, the entire book made a sudden and disorienting shift. The author’s voice went from authentic and vulnerable to flat and authoritative. 

I felt tricked, ripped off. The majority of the book had drawn me in with its authenticity, only to suddenly drop it all on the floor, like casually-discarded pretense, in order to neatly wrap it all up in the final pages. I’d read nearly all of its pages only to come out with the same storyline I’ve read enough times before. 

Life is hard….but God. 

Chasing Slow, by comparison, left me with something more like this:

Life is hard….and God. Life is still hard….and God.

 

Though I initially picked up Chasing Slow for an entirely different purpose, I finally found an author who is brave enough to walk the often-smudged line between spirituality and life’s hard facts. Letting the paradox remain part of the answer. Finding comfort in accepting our vulnerability. Grounding in life’s uncertainties. The fact that Loechner does so with both precision and uncertainty is just icing on top.

Toward the end of the book, Loechner says the following about faith:

 

I do not yet know what this means, but I sometimes catch myself thinking it requires a profound sense of trust in your smallness.

 

 

Chasing Slow doesn’t wrap things up perfectly for its reader. It doesn’t dole out answers. Loechner is simply sharing her own small perspective, in a world of other perspectives, while upholding the smallness and fragility that we all share. 

Isn’t this what makes us human, after all?

Don't Lose Yourself Here

Reading Chasing Slow was a radically transformative experience for me, as it seems to have been for many others. But Loechner has been extremely clear that she did not write this book to become the latest life guru. So, to close in alignment with her, I will leave you with parting words written by the author herself:

I want you to read this…in your voice, not mine. I want you to wrestle with what is written, to pin it down and hold it up to the light, see if it works for you, move on if it doesn’t.

 


*No Sidebar has since released a review of the book, written by Brian Gardner, who seems to have had a similar response to Loechner’s words as I did. 

 

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