As a Catholic woman, I like to read books and articles about Christian femininity. I have many friends who are wives and moms. Their Facebook links to articles from places like Faith and Family Live keep me from getting too complacent in my singlehood. One of my old housemates recommended Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge, so strongly that she gave me an inscribed copy as a sort-of graduation present. I took her recommendation to heart, even though I took a while to get around to actually reading the book.
Reading some other Christian young adult sites made me familiar with the concept of Wild at Heart, the bestseller by John Eldredge alone about Christian masculinity. I put that on my mental “to-maybe-read” list years ago. The premise of Wild at Heart is that Christian men seek three things: a battle to fight, an adventure, and a beauty to rescue. Without having read the book, I can look at the Christian men I know best and say that sounds about right. “Beauty,” of course, must be understood in its broadest sense, to include things like art and music and not just a pretty woman. It seems as though Wild at Heart rejects the inaccurate, feminized, all-love, no-fighting model of Jesus and gives him back his power, strength, and courage. Good job.
Captivating has a similar threefold goal list for women: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty. Unfortunately, Captivating fails to effectively elaborate on these goals. In the introduction, the authors write, “This is not a book about the things you are failing to do as a woman.” Oh, really? Their strategy of listing female stereotypes (and, admittedly, rejecting them) still left me without anywhere to fit in. What if I’m not trying to control everything and everyone around me, but I’m not a meek doormat, either? What if I don’t feel a deep hurt caused by my mom and the men in my past? How is having “an irreplaceable role” in an adventure different from the men’s simply having an adventure? It’s never a good sign when a book raises the spiritual questions it purports to answer.
The style of this book doesn’t aid the substance. The Eldredges, husband and wife, attempt to share authorship by trying to clarify the first-person voice as it switches back and forth within chapters. I often found myself jarred out of my reading rhythm by seeing “I (Stasi)” and “my (John’s).” On the other hand, I was sometimes confused as to whether I was reading Stasi’s or John’s stories and ideas. They ought to just present it all as a shared effort or minimize contributions from one or the other. The back-and-forth was unnecessary and distracting.
In the end, I was unsatisfied and definitely not captivated by this book. I was just tired. I wanted the book to be over. Perhaps the Eldredges could benefit from trying to write a more gender-neutral approach to Christian spirituality. I know a great old Polish priest who wrote and spoke a little bit about that. I like to call him Blessed JPII.