Dawn Eden Goldstein’s new book, Sunday Will Never Be the Same, is a captivating work of storytelling, but you would miss the point if you thought it was just her story. Sure, Goldstein recounts her life’s trajectory with evocative vignettes. We learn in visceral detail about formative childhood experiences, her absorption into the rock music scene of 1980s New York, and her development as a professional rock historian. In a delicate way, Goldstein also opens up about her struggles with abuse and mental illness. But, as we read, we begin to understand that Goldstein’s experiences–the facts about her life as told by her–are not the full story. It is also the story of God, as told from the perspective of one woman, who was born into a Jewish family and whom God claimed for himself through the mercy and healing love of Jesus Christ.
[Sunday Will Never Be the Same: A Rock and Roll Journalist Opens Her Ears to God is available for purchase online at Catholic.com, at this link.]
We read Sunday already knowing the outcome, and this allows Goldstein to subtly reveal the choices and events in her life as the work of God. Sometimes, this is made explicit, as when she skeptically prays to God for something and she receives it almost miraculously. At other times, it’s someone giving her a Christian children’s book at her sister’s bat mitzvah, an act that a young Goldstein remarked was very strange, but which would prove foundational to her eventual conversion to Christianity.
From a technical perspective, Goldstein’s choice to write in the first-person present tense enhances our experience of traveling this journey with her. While at various points in the story the voice of elder Goldstein is distractingly apparent (often in a self-deprecating way, like when the author makes a joke about once thinking Evelyn Waugh was a woman), for the most part, it effectively gives us the sense that we are experiencing her life with her in real-time. Goldstein shares many formative experiences that, at the time, appeared to be painful, embarrassing, or nonsensical. We experience them as she did: painful, embarrassing, nonsensical.
At the same time, we know who Goldstein is and the woman she will become. As we progress through her story–unique, certainly, but not otherworldly–it is also quite clear that God is working in the pain, suffering, and ordinariness of her life. The effect on the reader, achieved wonderfully in us through Goldstein’s workmanship, is simultaneously empathy and hope. We want to somehow reach young Goldstein, Neverending Story style, by screaming into the pages of her book, “It will all be okay, Dawn!”
Goldstein beautifully illustrates just how dynamic God can be when trying to reach us, sometimes subtly in the background, other times dramatically and miraculously. Sadly, rather than seeing God as the subject of a relationship with us rooted in love, it is easy for us to reduce God to an object of study. We read, think, learn, and write about God. Or, we use God as a political tool and use the moral demands of the Gospel to leverage others for our own benefit. We begin to imagine a God who is aloof, who has revealed himself to the elite in an intellectual way, but who nevertheless remains distant from our day-to-day experiences, especially our pain and sufferings. This was one of Goldstein’s early misconceptions about Christianity–albeit justified given certain bad actors that loomed large in her experience–that kept her away from the faith.
By any objective measure anyone can see that Goldstein is a brilliant woman. She is already an accomplished writer and author. She has multiple degrees in theology, including a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary). But if her memoir makes one thing clear, it’s that her experience of God is not mediated by her intellectualism or knowledge of the faith. Her conversion as an adult arguably began when she first read GK Chesterton, whose words gave her goosebumps and “felt true.” Goldstein didn’t need to be convinced by argumentation; she was moved by beauty. Similarly, it was this ability to connect deeply with the beauty of the world around her that enlivened her passion for rock music.
Eventually, in a way reminiscent of St. Augustine’s own conversion, the Scriptures are opened up to her in a radical way. She abandons her effort to “know” God and embraces faith as a way of “understanding.” Finally, she finds the love of her life in God, the one who can truly understand her the way she longs to be understood. This love story between Goldstein and God, albeit unspoken through much of her memoir, can inspire any reader. In her story, we detect God’s presence, hidden from view but undoubtedly there. Shortly before her conversion to Christianity, this presence comes to the fore and we begin to understand how God was always with her, even in her darkest moments.
With all this talk about God, I need to be clear. Sunday Will Never Be the Same does not directly seek to persuade or convert, though it very well may inspire conversions. Goldstein’s decision to tell her conversion story in this way might be rooted in the story of her mother, who plays a central role in her life. For much of her youth, her mother had been drifting from religion to religion, from the Reformed Judaism of Goldstein’s youth, to various New Age preachers, and ultimately to Christianity. In her new community, her mother found a profound joy. As a young adult, Goldstein could acknowledge her mother was happy, but simply being exposed to this happiness wasn’t enough to make her happy too. Christianity was not something she found meaningful at the time; we read that Goldstein found her own happiness in Christ only years later. Similarly, Goldstein would likely understand that some of her readers might not be ready to embrace Christianity right away, but as her own experiences suggest, God can work great miracles from small seeds that are planted in the most ordinary of life’s events.
One of the book’s greatest qualities is its ability to illustrate the many ways that God works within us, however imperceptibly. This story demonstrates, quite effectively, that God is with us, even in music and in pain. Finally, Sunday Will Never Be the Same is a testament to the idea that it is only in knowing what we will become that we can see the greatness of God’s love for us in the messiness and ordinariness of our lives.
Sunday Will Never Be the Same:A Rock & Roll Journalist Opens Her Ears to God by Dawn Eden Goldstein was released on March 15, 2019 by Catholic Answers Press. Click here to order directly from the publisher.
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