Steps Along the Way: A Spiritual Autobiography

By Diogenes Allen
Church. 2002. 134 pp. Pb. $13.95. ISBN 0-89869-352-7

— reviewed by Ed White, Washington, D.C.

This book recounts Diogenes Allen’s search for the providence of God. He begins by describing the shock of witnessing the overwhelming poverty in India in 1955: “I was not prepared for the horror of seeing people dying in the street” (p. 3).

For a time he lost his faith. In the process he discovered that his faith was not an emotional crutch. Over time he discovers the power and reality of Jesus at a new level: “One of the ways I became aware of how truly wondrous Jesus is was simply to drop all belief in him as divine, and then just compare his words and actions to those of other great people I admired” (p. 9).

Allen explores the present “discouragement” that pervades the mainline churches and finds compelling wisdom in the poetry of George Herbert, who wrote a series of 164 poems called “The Temple.” For Herbert the spiritual life is not simply our “inner work” nor our social activism. Spiritual life is not something we do but rather the work of God. The source of the spiritual life is the sacrifice of Christ: “His love cannot be turned away. Even when people killed the one who bears the love of God, God raised him from the dead to claim us. The greatest rejection of all is not able to defeat his love. It’s almost as if Jesus says, ‘Here I am again. You just cannot get rid of me. What now are you going to do?’” (pp. 41-42).

Allen describes the dividedness within our souls that makes it easy for us to forget the love of God. Like the deranged man in Scripture, each of us is “legion,” for we are many. Our journey to reconciliation with God involves both our outward day-to-day life and also our inner life. Like the Hebrews in the wilderness we wander to and fro. “Many of us walk most of our lives in the dark” (p. 66). In a treatment of the Prodigal Son, he describes the difficulty we have in “getting it.” He identifies three “wounds” that our knowledge of divine love causes within us, the wounds of repentance, compassion and longing: “The first wound (repentance) is caused by awareness of how much and in how many ways we have disappointed God” (p. 83). The wound of compassion comes as we see the suffering of people (love of neighbor). The third wound comes from our thirst for God.

Allen continues to describe his personal journey and ends with a discussion of how the gospel transforms our understanding of failure and success: “It is a great relief and very liberating to realize that to be a success only requires us to do God’s will” (p. 133).

I was especially moved by a prayer uttered by a physician suffering from kidney failure:

O God, we asked for long life and you gave us eternity. We asked for healing and you prepared us for the glory of Christ’s risen body. How can we return enough thanks or praise?