Emma Lou Thayne
The Place of Knowing: A Spiritual Autobiography
The Place of Knowing: A Spiritual Autobiography, by Emma Lou Warner Thayne, both stimulates the mind and touches the heart. Not a traditional autobiography, this work centers on her death experience when an iron bar flying through the windshield struck her head. Insights radiate from that core experience, suffusing many events of her life with enhanced meaning. “The experience,” she reflects, “was far beyond ecstasy, joy, or even bliss. And I brought back a word I had intuited should exist — childness — not childlike or childish, but childness” (21).
Her expanded understanding illuminates her varied experience, including Mormon women and the sense of her ancestral past, testimony and tolerance, the horrors of war and the quest for peace, death but also the vibrancy of life. And it deals with people, those who have enriched her life. Her husband, her children, her mother, and her ancestral mothers are lovingly enveloped into her story, but so also are Paul who died of AIDS, Ananda who teaches yoga and Hindu philosophy, Rachel who by reading chakras is clairvoyant, as well as her mentor Lowell Bennion who inspired her to “stay in touch vertically with the divine and horizontally with the human” (251). Her worldview spans the divine, the human and the interpenetration of the divine into the mortal world.
Thayne acknowledges her journey cannot be completely captured by language, but rather her explorations are “word echoes of the ineffable that I have known and lived through and by” (91). Her explorations encompass the graceful retelling of episodes along that journey as well as poetry that distills and sharpens the impact of her experience. The encounter for the reader is perceived as points of light reflecting her enhanced knowledge, points that in their increasing intensity lift the mind and penetrate the soul. Elegant and enlightening, this is superb autobiography indeed.