Book Review: Metanoia by Anna McGahan.
Once I started reading this remarkable book I was hooked. I want to tell you why I think it is so worth reading.
Anna McGahan is an Australian actress and author. I don’t watch much TV and I don’t think I have ever seen her in any of the many shows she has acted in, but I have heard her talk twice at events I attended. She spoke eloquently, animatedly and honestly, but I still don’t think I was prepared for the highs and lows of reading Metanoia.
She calls the book “a memoir of a body, born again”, for this book is so much about her body and how she has felt, exulted and suffered within her body. It is also a story of deep, passionate spirituality, both allied with and also fighting against her body.
Born into an artistic family, and blessed with magical imagination and deep emotions, Anna’s childhood set the tone for her early life.
She tells of wanting a God who offered intimacy, writing a letter to God that wasn’t answered (at least not then) and in disappointment giving up believing he was real.
Of dancing with more passion than precision. Being treated for epilepsy.
Of becoming so concerned about her body that for many years she suffered eating disorders, ending up in hospital when she was a teen.
Discovering sexuality, with both boys and girls. Then university, acting, short films and relationship after relationship.
Eventually she made it, roles in TV and film.
Everything put together falls apart
And so, in her early twenties, Anna found herself far from home, so very conscious of her body, playing parts that required nudity, in and out of transitory relationships, and allowing herself to be defined by others.
Successful, but in many ways lost.
In this physical, mental and spiritual state, Anna became friends with some christians, she attended some christian activities, and she decided to read the Bible for herself.
She met an unexpected Jesus, one who was on her side, unlike the religion she had been taught as a child.
And everything started to change, slowly but definitely, as she opened herself up to God’s gracious healing and responded to the Spirit’s insistent voice.
I won’t try to tell the rest of the story, but it takes many twists and turns in an unusual life that is still barely 30 years long.
Not your average conversion story
You might be tempted to think that this is just another stereotypical conversion story. You know, famous person tries everything, discovers it’s all meaningless, finds God.
But Anna’s book is very much more interesting than that. Here are some of the highlights for me.
This isn’t some prosaic account. Anna is an actor and a writer with Celtic imagination and spirituality. So her writing is a pleasure to read, with evocative turns of phrase, creative insights and brutal honesty.
Right from the start, Anna had a deep and unusual (I think) relationship with God. Her faith appears to be very much about relationship more than dogma, obedience rather than comfort.
Time and again in Anna’s journey, God spoke to her in unusual ways. Thoughts that she had no doubt were from God were confirmed again and again by coming true. Leading her into unusual responses in her new found relationship with Jesus.
Giving away large sums of money to whoever God pointed out to her. Being led quite specifically to a home to live in. Receiving physical healing.
I can only guess that the same gifts that enabled her to act and write also enabled her to be open to the Spirit in ways that few of us experience. And so to be healed in ways most of us probably don’t experience.
Your body is a wonderland … and a temple
And woven through it all is her relationship with her own body. From something to be negated and fed as little as possible, to something to be used and even flaunted, to a temple of God to be valued and cared for.
Her faith is very spiritual, but also very physical.
An insight into a different world
Anna’s story gave me an insight into world’s very much removed from my experiences. Not just the creative world of acting, dancing and writing ( you can’t get much further from the world of an engineer!), but eating disorders, blurred sexuality, deep spirituality.
Not a tame God
Most of all, Anna’s story shows how God isn’t tame, he doesn’t always conform to the rules we make up about him. He doesn’t always respect our niceties either, often giving spiritual insight and experiences to those we might think less worthy or ready.
How God can use unexpected people and unexpected events to influence us. How we can come to him in so many different ways. How the choice is ours whether we follow the breadcrumbs until they become a trail, then follow the trail until it becomes a river.
So much more
This book is so much better than I can describe. Her story and writing lead you on. Sometimes to tears, sometimes to joy, sometimes to both. It’s that sort of book.
You’ll learn a lot about Anna and the world she has lived in. But you’ll also learn a lot about the God who loves us with an everlasting love, and who refuses to be confined to churches and dogmas and rules.
I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Graphic taken from Anna’s Instagram.