Unlacing the Heart: Connecting with what really matters Written by Henry Freeman Reviewed by Emily Garrison and Rocky Garrison
Unlacing the Heart (2015) offers a series of vignettes from Henry Freeman’s life as a fundraiser and his subsequent break from his career to do service in Central America. The accompanying study guide (by Freeman with Colin Saxton, 2016) adds scripture readings and queries for each vignette. Freeman shares a variety of experiences, including relationships he developed in El Salvador while on a mission there and interactions he had with teachers, mentors, and clients. Taken together, they fit into the Quaker tradition of sharing impactful personal experiences in worship, personal journals, and diaries; and using those to develop spiritual insight and practice. With each story, Freeman examines his sense of connectedness to others and identifies guideposts for his future relationships. The study guide invites the reader to further consider the impact of these insights on their own style of living and relating to others.
Recently, some Bridge City Friends were discussing the difficulty we have incorporating Bible readings into our daily spiritual practices. Unlacing the Heart and its study guide provide a framework to support the Quaker process of considering personal stories along with Biblical stories to deepen the meaning of both and to help develop a way of listening deeply as others share their experiences. This style of listening can be used in interactions with others and in receiving the ministry of Friends in meeting. The connection of personal experience and deeper meaning also encourages us to share personal experiences in our ministry, with the hope that others will listen deeply and find spiritual insight.
One shortcoming we found in Unlacing the Heart was that, although the experiences and relationships Freeman describes were obviously deeply moving for him, we found them to be somewhat commonplace and oblique. We were also uncomfortable with Freeman’s notion that as a successful and wealthy white man, he possessed the insight and power to “save” the orphans and impoverished people he encountered in El Salvador, and furthermore, that they were grateful to him for doing so. One of us (RG) found that these books worked together better if one first reads the queries, then the scripture, and then the author’s corresponding personal experiences. Freeman is a clear and steady writer, and he has an obvious goal with these books: To challenge readers to rethink their interpersonal relationships. ~~~
Emily Garrison is a theatre artist in New York; Rocky, her father, is a retired psychologist and a former clerk of Bridge City Friends Meeting in Portland, OR (NPYM).