“Eat, Pray, Love” is the raw, emotional mini-biography of Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who “searches for everything” across Italy, India and Bali following a heart-breaking divorce. It's surprising that such an honest, frequently mournful book should encounter such success, and even be adapted to film. What exactly made Elizabeth Gilbert's story so touching to so many people?
For one, it's excellently written – so much so, that as a writer myself, I'm frequently exclaiming over and rereading particularly vibrant passages to anyone who will listen. Gilbert's experiences are written in such an honest and beautiful way that it's hard to imagine anyone not loving her work. But the appeal is deeper than that, isn't it? Not everyone is like me and has conniptions over perfect sentences and poetic descriptors, and the story of one woman “finding herself” and trying to learn forms of Yogic meditation is not exactly thrilling material.
I believe “Eat, Pray, Love” has been so incredibly successful because people are yearning for two things: spiritual depth and honesty – which is odd, because those two don't go hand-in-hand for us very often, do they? We protect ourselves from honesty with our spiritual leaders, trying to project upon them perfect lives and deep spiritual disciplines. We want them to tell us wise things that make us feel spiritually deep and connected to God without having to be honest about the state of our souls, or the actions that we live out Monday – Saturday. We want to love, but we have a hard time with the honesty of speaking the truth in love, so we often wind up silent.
When did spiritual depth and honesty become mutually exclusive? Both are essential for the Christian life, and it's OK for us to admit that we don't know everything, but we are praying and loving and working our way toward understanding more. Elizabeth Gilbert is appealing because she is imperfect. She admits that she doesn't understand God, she longs to be “better” at prayer – she even laughs at herself and her attempts to understand a universe that clearly beyond our comprehension. Can we admit all of that, as Christians?
Sometimes we get stuck in appearances, but the raging success of Eat Pray Love should break us out of the funk of trying to be perfect on the outside. There are incredible gifts in this world – and one of the most precious is the gift of our experience, our friendship, and our lessons along the way. We don't have to go to an Ashram in India to find God – He gave us His Spirit that we might share Him with a lost and increasingly spiritually starving world. Are we being “Eat, Pray, Love – Christian Edition” – to the world?