Beacon Press: Surprised by God
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Surprised by God

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion

Author: Danya Ruttenberg

A combat-booted religious awakening and a look at what it takes to develop a spiritual practice

At thirteen, Danya Ruttenberg decided that she was an atheist. Watching the sea of adults standing up and sitting down at Rosh Hashanah services, and apparently giving credence to the patently absurd truth-claims of the prayer book, she came to a conclusion: Marx was right.

As a young adult, Danya immersed herself in the rhinestone-bedazzled wonderland of late-1990s San Francisco-attending Halloweens on the Castro, drinking smuggled absinthe with wealthy geeks, and plotting the revolution with feminist zinemakers. But she found herself yearning for something she would eventually call God. As she began inhaling countless stories of spiritual awakenings of Catholic saints, Buddhist nuns, medieval mystics, and Hasidic masters, she learned that taking that yearning seriously would require much of her.

Surprised by God is a religious coming-of-age story, from the mosh pit to the Mission District and beyond. It’s the memoir of a young woman who found, lost, and found again communities of like-minded seekers, all the while taking a winding, semi-reluctant path through traditional Jewish practice that eventually took her to the rabbinate. It’s a post-dotcom, third-wave, punk-rock Seven Storey Mountain-the story of integrating life on the edge of the twenty-first century into the discipline of traditional Judaism without sacrificing either. It’s also a map through the hostile territory of the inner life, an unflinchingly honest guide to the kind of work that goes into developing a spiritual practice in today’s world-and why, perhaps, doing this in today’s world requires more work than it ever has.
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“Danya Ruttenberg shares the story of her journey toward embracing observant Judaism. What makes this story fascinating and urgent is that Ruttenberg never stops thinking and asking hard questions. She reminds us that loving religion is a matter of heart and soul—and brain. And that it something to which I say amen.” —Leora Tanenbaum, author and journalist

“Danya Ruttenberg marshals beautiful writing and a prodigious intellect and, leavening it all with a hefty dose of wit, tells a compelling story that has something to teach everyone who picks it up, regardless of how spiritual or religious (or not) they are.” —Lisa Jervis, cofounder of bitch: feminist response to pop culture

“Ruttenberg’s honesty, depth, wit, and eloquence light up every page.” —Carol Lee Flinders, author of Enduring Lives: Portraits of Women and Faith in Action

“The philosopher in me loves the unfettered and deep intellectual challenges to which Ruttenberg subjects religion in general and Judaism in particular. The rabbi in me appreciates how she wrestles with Judaism in as intense a way as Jacob wrestled with the angel. The person in me loves her unmitigated integrity and honesty. All in all, Surprised by God is truly a treat!”
—Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D., author of Knowing God: Jewish Journeys to the Unknowable and distinguished professor of philosophy, American Jewish University

“What makes Danya Ruttenberg’s engaging spiritual memoir especially unique is her commitment to her modern values-such as feminism and humanism-and her insistence that she can be both a religiously observant Jew and an enlightened human being. This moderate religious approach is refreshingly mature in a world of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Ruttenberg’s search for meaning in an often superficial American culture should inspire readers to embark on their own spiritual paths, and Ruttenberg herself is living proof that discovering God and even religion does not necessarily mean losing one’s inner core.” —Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David, author of Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination


Review: - January 29, 2009
"Ruttenberg does a masterful job of weaving in quotations from religion's greatest thinkers while taking us on her contemporary pilgrmage of sorts. It's entirely relatable, which in my experience, is unusual for a religious text. It's young. It's hip. And it's still profoundly serious."
Review: - September 17, 2008
“The book is beautifully written, funny, and honest, but what's most extraordinary is its refusal to offer easy answers. This quality is especially welcome as we find ourselves, yet again, in the midst of an election cycle in which many assume that religion offers easy answers to complicated issues.”

Review: Religion Writer - September 10, 2008
“[Surprised by God] is really fantastic: well-written, engaging, skating that line between the personal and the universal with surprising grace.”
Review by: Jessica Jernigan, bitch - September 1, 2008
"Compelling . . . illuminating . . . a thought-provoking memoir."
Review: Jewish Book World - September 1, 2008
"[T]his book is a revealing and thought provoking glimpse inside the mind of a young seeker. It is well-written and accessible to people who are curious about the life of one feminist Jew as she struggles to find community and meaning amidst life's joys and challenges."
Review by: Laura Stokes, BUST - September 1, 2008
"...thoughtful and articulate memoir . . . While many of the experiences are similar to others’ in her generation—love, loss, and identity struggle—her style of combining personal experience with a wide range of philosophic responses gives her narrative greater texture. Ruttenberg is as likely to quote Sufi mystics and Catholic saints as she is to refer to Jewish writers; she is seeking a truth that transcends doctrine. This postmodern story of faith is perhaps also indicative of a new generation of spiritual seeks, who have found a way to connect across religions as they seek a connection with God."
Review by: Claire Sufrin, Lilith - July 1, 2008
"Ruttenberg no doubt began her book with a moment of teenage rebellion in order to make her gradual commitment to a life of Jewish practice seem all the more striking. But the true beauty of her story is found not in this large transformation (teenage atheists are a dime a dozen) but in the moments of small transformations."
Review: Booklist - July 1, 2008
"A tremendously satisfying memoir of spiritual awakening . . ."
Review: Tikkun - July 1, 2008
"Ms. Ruttenberg is sharp in her insights about the world and about herself . . . [she] gives us reason to be hopeful about the future of American Judaism."
Review: Publisher's Weekly - April 28, 2008
"The book's breezy style, mixing personal anecdotes with reflection, is balanced by thoughtful narrative about what religion is and what it demands of its adherents...her description of her growing awareness of the power of ritual, the support of community, and religion as relationship will resonate with all sorts of spiritual seekers."
Read an interview with Danya Ruttenberg in Nextbook's Tablet Magazine

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Surprised by God

ISBN: 978-080701068-6
Publication Date: 8/1/2008
Pages: 256
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $24.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: In stock.
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