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The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape Hardcover – April 17, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (April 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385497555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385497558
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,683,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Phyllis Tickle's exquisite memoir Shaping a Life ranges across a sweeping Southern landscape where we see the events--highly dramatic and tenderly simple--that shaped her esteemed spiritual life. (Tickle, author of The Divine Hours, is a contributing editor on religion for Publisher's Weekly and is one of America's most respected authorities on religion.) When we first meet Tickle, she is a highly imaginative only child growing up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee in the 1930s. By the end of the book we have followed her through the formative days of college, her migration into the Episcopal Church, and into some of her most riveting moments as a young wife and public school teacher in the 1950s.

Tickle has the wisdom of a mature storyteller as well as the humility of a spiritual seeker. She makes meaning out of the smallest details, showing us how a backyard forsythia bush became a sacred hiding place, foreshadowing her lifelong compulsion to find private sanctuaries. We meet her gentle mother, who made a daily ritual out of reading a magazine, manicuring her nails and studying the Bible. This, she concludes, influenced Tickle's adult attraction to the daily psalms. Even the way she sneaked cigarettes in her college dorm offers insight into the nature of her Christian yearnings.

Some of her scenes are utterly gripping, like her near-death experience after having an adverse reaction to an anti-miscarriage drug. "Without a care for anything that had ever been or ever was or ever might be, I lifted toward the light as lithely as if I had been a sparrow upon the courses of the early morning wind." Throughout the memoir we are held in this kind of lilting narration. Like a feminine version of Pat Conroy, Tickle is a strong, descriptive author who thoroughly appreciates how Southern landscapes, family, marriage, and death can shape a character as well as a spirit. --Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

Tickle (PW's contributing editor in religion and author of The Divine Hours) offers an enthralling spiritual memoir of her early life in Tennessee, recording academic and religious awakenings and her evolving understanding of prayer. Though her mind is numinous, Tickle's life has never been ascetic. Always the demands of the spirit competed with and were complemented by teaching duties, marriage to a country doctor and the needs of her children. (Although the memoir closes when Tickle is pregnant with her third child, she went on to have four more.) Because of this, Tickle's memoir is reminiscent of the best writing of Madeleine L'Engle, in that the business of spirituality is conducted while stirring the sauce. Several of Tickle's most holy realizations occurred while she engaged in domestic tasks: sorting the china after her wedding or scrubbing out smelly socks in the bathtub. Tickle is quite simply a marvelous writer, continually delighting the reader by her facility not only with the English language but with the human character. In recounting her own life, she pauses to appreciate the mentors, both in the flesh and on the printed page, who assisted in her spiritual formation. Many laugh-out-loud moments balance the frank acknowledgments of dark times, as when she struggled through depression or miscarriage. Even when discussing the more painful memories of her early life, Tickle's writing shines with a joy that is transcendent of circumstance.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly, is one of the most highly respected authorities and popular speakers on religion in America today. She is the author of more than two dozen books including the Divine Hours series of prayer manuals. A lector and lay eucharistic minister in the Episcopal Church, Tickle is a senior fellow of the Cathedral College of Washington National Cathedral. For more information go to and

Customer Reviews

A very satisfying read.
And it certainly wasn't a complete waste of time.
R. Trotter
The story is refreshing and inspirational.
Gloria Mitchell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Phyllis Tickle has written the most astounding and moving spiritual biography I've read in years. In beautifully detailed prose she recounts her earliest childhood memories when she was first awakened by the sacred. I knew I was in for treat when, early in the book, I felt the immediacy of her experience--she had a spiritual epiphany while crouched in a forsythia hedge during a game of hide-and-seek.
As I followed her developing spiritual hunger through her high school and college years, I recognized so many parallels from my own life. But here's what I liked most about this book: the wonderful, thought-provoking meditative reflections on the everyday occurrences of life that, if one approaches life with an open heart, are imbued with spiritual meaning.
And the other thing I liked? Just plain, good, old-fashioned story-telling. No one tells a great story like Phyllis Tickle. I loved it!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Carol A. Durepos on May 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Phyllis Tickle is an enthralling, unique, transmuted specimen of the homo sapien species that I wouldn't have known existed or believed in if I hadn't read her book, The Shaping of A Life. The book made a believer out of me, she is truly a kindred spirit. Reading Shaping of A Life was both a struggle and a delight. I have spent almost as much time with the dictionary as with the book. It is one of the most well-written, intelligent, entertaining, inspiring, sensitive books I have ever read. I absolutely know she has worked very hard all her life and what an extraordinary life it is. Amazing! I am so grateful that she was willing to share parts of it with us. I feel privileged in having had the opportunity to meet her in this incredible book. The Shaping of A Life is a unique experience that must not be missed. Now I want more.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By disheveledprofessor on January 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
The title of this book misled me a bit. Reading the title, "Shaping of a Life: a Spiritual Landscape", and reading the jacket blurbs about Tickle's books on prayer, I expected something along the lines of "a guide to a better prayer life".

And while prayer is an important component of this book, the book is really an autobiography. And it's an autobiography that supplies what we seek in autobiographies and biographies. I read a lot of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs -- and I'm disappointed so often that I wonder that I continue. Too often they relate events, yet the reader gains no sense of how the events affected the character.

Not so with Phyllis Tickle. She imbibed early Socrates' maxim, "The unexamined life is not worth living." She examines the events in her life, and thoughtfully identifies how they impacted her, how they molded her character, her beliefs, her actions. She is not skittish about talking about her inner life.

Besides this, Tickle is a literate and captivating writer. I couldn't put it down. I especially enjoyed reading her experiences as an undergraduate at Shorter College. She participated the "intellectual orgasm often anticipated but seldom experience.

A very satisfying read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Through one woman's story, we are invited to draw closer to the One who loves us the most. The beauty of Tickle's writing is that her tone is one of invitation to a life of prayer, rather than being preachy or self-congratulatory. By turns poignant and humorous, Tickle kept my attention through the very last page. My only disappointment was that her story ended much too soon. More, please!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Trotter on March 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book was a very tough read for me, and not in a good way. Mrs. Tickle's writing is very difficult to follow. The narrative of her story (this happened and then that) is clear enough. But the substance of the various spiritual awakenings and growing understandings that I was really reading the book for are terribly difficult to figure out. Just when you think you've waded through and a revealing point is coming, it gets cloaked in so much ambiguity and curcuitous reasoning that you're left uncertain what it is that was learned or what was momentous about that moment. (And for the record, I am a reader with a degree in Literature and am a member of Mensa. If I found the book this hard to follow, then it's hard to imagine that others won't struggle with it as well.)

Also, be perfectly frank, at times the substance of Mrs. Tickle's life was rather hard for me to deal with. She had such a charmed upbringing and young life, yet never seems to quite realize how different this is from so many others. I had to put the book down for several days after a section where she begins to understand original sin while sorting through the hundreds of wedding gifts she and her husband had received. Along this vein, despite being set in the south during the 40s, 50s and early 60s, there is no mention of race or segregation in the book until the last few pages when she speaks a bit about MLK and a conversation with an old missionary about the sameness of tribalism in Africa and racism in America. I know from talking with other relatively privileged white Southerners of that era that the issue wasn't really part of their awareness.
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