Eat, Pray, Love is a truly remarkable book about  one woman’s journey for one year – four months in Italy so she could learn to speak Italian simply because she liked the sound of it, four months in an ashram in India to learn how to  experience God, and four months in Bali where she thought she might find balance but also found a lover.

As the book opens, Elizabeth Gilbert describes an earlier time in her life when she had decided she did not want to be married anymore.  She really, really didn’t want to be married anymore and the only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying.  In desperation she tried praying.

Her first attempt at praying, on the bathroom floor , “like –  to God,” somehow convinced her there was a God though nothing remarkable happened, and the only voice she heard was her own, saying, “Go back to bed, Liz.”  Yes, she only heard her own voice but it was a voice she had never heard before – wise, calm, compassionate, “how can I describe the warmth of affection in that voice?”  This began what she calls the beginning of a religious conversation.

“When I pray I do not address my prayers to The Universe, the Great Void, The Force,  The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The Light, The Higher Power, or even the most poetic manifestation of God’s name, taken, I believe, from the Gnostic gospels, “The Shadow of the Turning.” …  But we each do need a functional name for this indescribability and “God” is the name that feels the most warm to me, so that’s what I use.  I should also confess hat I generally refer to God as “Him,” which doesn’t bother me because, to my mind, it’s just a convenient personal pronoun, not a precise anatomical description or a cause for revolution.”

In the EAT section of the book as Liz travelled around Italy in each new town she would inquire where the best food could be found, go to that place, and order the best food they had to offer.  Not everyone could afford to be so self-indulgent, but it seems that Liz has the wherewithal.

She tells us she has no trouble making friends wherever she goes and this becomes even  more apparent in the PRAY section, in India, where she starts out in the ashram scrubbing floors but ends up as a kind of hostess/caretaker watching over newcomers.  “One Thursday afternoon in the back of the temple, right in the midst of my Key Hostess duties, wearing my name tag and everything–I am suddenly transported through the portal of the universe and taken to the center of God’s palm.”  Her further description of this experience is worth the price of the book.  I liked also her quote from Pope Pius XI who sent delegates to Libya in 1954 with the instructions: “Do NOT think you are going among Infidels.  Muslims attain salvation, too.  The ways of Providence are infinite.”

In the LOVE section Liz finds love–enough said.    Elizabeth Gilbert knows how to write, she approaches life with gusto, she tells the truth, she is a seeker, and it seems she has had more experiences in a year than most people have in a lifetime.  Still, at the end of the book, she is only 35, hardly dry behind the ears.  I am sure she will write more and I am also sure I will want to read what she writes and learn what she has learned.

Postscript:  I should have investigated earlier but have just learned that Eat, Pray, Love was a mega-hit, translated into 30 languages, and is being made into a movie starring Julia Roberts.  And, of course, Liz is still writing, her most recent book being Committed in which she considers the pros and cons of marriage to her lover (both are quite shy of marriage).   Since they do end up married this might very well be a good choice for those who wonder if marriage is more than “an unnecessary  piece of paper.”