People of the Books: The God Box by Mary Lou Quinlan

Let me first admit two things:  one, this was an accidental find.  I was seeking a different book and this was shelved near it; the title was intriguing, so I picked up both.  Yes, I do judge books by their covers, and that’s that.  Two, I am a terrible cynic.  (If you haven’t figured this out yet, either your observation is off or I’m totally successful in becoming my nom de clavier.)  Therefore, reading anything by a woman named Mary Lou inclines me to set “scoff” at maximum, because really, how sweet can you get?

And I wasn’t terribly wrong; The God Box is indeed very much like a Hallmark film to give you the warm fuzzies.  It was pretty obvious that this volume was put together with layout help from a magazine employee (RealSmart), because it felt like a magazine–artsy photo spreads interspersed with the text, lines of emphasis brought out in larger font (which I really am not a fan of, by the by; if I’ve read the regular text, I don’t want to read it again in excerpts on the same page), and gloss over the whole.  This, despite its small size, is kind of a coffee table book.  Which is fine, but the material–oh, how much you could do with the material!

The basic story is that Quinlan’s mom, after she retired, took to writing prayers to God on paper scraps and keeping them in her God Box(es).  These were all kinds of prayers–prayers for healing of a relative, guidance for a child, patience for herself, prayers for events, people, strangers, prayers for love, forgiveness, strength.


Prayer, for me, is an incredibly intense thing.  I am not terribly good at praying in small groups (although it seems to be falling to me more and more often these days, hmm) partly because prayer is an all-out conversation with God for me, and that’s hard to edit around other people.  Yes, yes, I know, you shouldn’t edit prayer, it becomes false, so on and so on, but I’m pretty sure I can’t say some of the things I say in private prayer around other folks.  Nor should I; private prayer, for each of us (I think), has its own power and rhythm, as it should.  After all, we’re none of us exactly the same person by ourselves as we are around people.  It’s just the way of things.

But I liked the undertow of this book in terms of how it got me thinking of what my prayers are.  Do I ask for things all the time?  (Do I expect to receive any of them?)  How much of my prayer is praise?  When do I sit still and let God tell me what He needs me to hear?  Prayer is such an incredible thing—we are given the opportunity to be in communication, however formal or casual we want to make it, with The Almighty.

Whoa.  That’s quite a bit more than being able to IM your friend in China, and that still blows my mind.

Quite separate from that is another confession I have to make about this.  One of my biggest blocks to really liking this book (other than it being, well, warm and fuzzy) is that I can’t wrap my head around the relationship of Quinlan and her mom. My mother and I…well, we’re not pals, so to read about a mom basically one step below God (if that many) in her daughter’s eyes was weird and fantastical to me.  I don’t describe it that way to make Quinlan seem blasphemous, I say it to illustrate that her mom was the bee’s knees in her eyes.  Her love for her mom (whose death spurred the idea for the book) simply pours out from the pages, which is great, but totally alien to me.  Not that I don’t love my mum.  Just that I wouldn’t write a book saying so, because we’re way more complicated than that.

So the verdict is that this is a celebration of the love of a woman for her friends and family and her own interpretation of faith in the face of the stress of life, and that’s just nice.  It’s a very quick read and an interesting idea, and sort of the lemon custard of religion books.  Personally, I’m for things that make me quite a bit more uncomfortable, but then, I’ve had my fair share of being identified with Ebenezer Scrooge.

Rating: 2/5 stars

As a separate note, there won’t be a post here next week; through a series of insanely strange events, I’m off to be a camp counselor for a week.  For middle schoolers.  Which is probably partly to blame for this entry being rather scatterbrained.  Prayers are welcome, and I will return Friday the 10th.  Until then, many blessings to you, Reader.

4 thoughts on “People of the Books: The God Box by Mary Lou Quinlan

  1. Hello there. Thank you for the review. I’m happy you found something to consider in “The God Box.” It’s a small book with a big mission and yes, a lot of love. “Lemon custard?” I’ll take it. Glad you are writing this blog and inviting others to your journey. Hope camp is terrific. Mary Lou (sweet name? don’t know…honestly appreciative? yes, truly.)


    • Well hello, thank you for reading this! I did indeed find something to consider, and am glad I stumbled across your book. Congratulations on getting published; whatever opinions anyone ever has of books, being published is a big deal that earns high respect from me. And I’m quite serious about how your love for your mom permeates the whole; I’m delighted you were blessed with that relationship, and realize it.
      Camp was terrific…I think. It will take me a long time to process all of it, I think, as well as to get over how incredibly sore it made me!


  2. I definitely agree about praying in front of other people. That has always been a problem for me in public worship. The way I talk to God alone just doesn’t translate into a group setting. I made my peace with that years and years ago, because I’ve been in positions of spiritual leadership all of my life. The key (it seems to me) is to try never to lie to myself… to realize that what I’m doing in group prayer is the best I can do under the circumstances, and to trust God to understand the difference. Because prayer isn’t really about what I say anyway; it’s about how receptive I am to God.

    Blessings to you and your fellow campers!



    • Always delightful to know it’s not just me. I’ve definitely had the conscious thought (to myself) a few times of “this is prayer, not showmanship”—I think it’s easy to try and sound like you know what you’re doing, ish, but you’re right. Honesty with yourself and with God is the best way to connect yourself and those praying along with Him.

      Thanks—I’m super nervous, but I hope it will go well!


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