The water will hold you



“… exquisitely written memoir“
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)



When Lindsey Crittenden went to church one day, she had no interest in getting closer to God. She just wanted to get out of the apartment. What she found there changed her life. Unfamiliar and uncomfortable with traditional prayer, she resisted a priest’s invitation to pray. And then the priest taught her a simple phrase. “I am here, you are here.” As Lindsey started to say the words, they began to ease the knot of isolation she had been carrying since the day her brother died. Soon, she couldn’t pray enough. She spoke to God; she questioned God; and when her mother got lung cancer and her late brother’s son became increasingly hers to care for, she leaned on God. And then a relationship went sour, and prayer and God abandoned her. Or so it seemed, until she learned the most important lesson of all. An articulate meditation on the ineffable as well as an inspiring narrative of family, loss, and love, The Water Will Hold You is a skeptic’s story as much as it is a believer’s story.


“Lindsey Crittenden’s autobiographical account of learning to pray reads like a well-written novel. The characters, her family and friends, are as real as the people we all know and love. Her struggles also are as real as those many face: death, substance abuse and relationships…. If this book is an example of her writing skill, she has found success.”
Charleston Post & Courier

“Can prayer cure clinical depression? According to Lindsey Crittenden’s thoughtful memoir, the answer is yes and no.…. The skeptic who learned to pray finds, finally, that God helps those who help themselves.”
Dallas Morning News

“Ten years ago Crittenden walked timidly into an Episcopal church in Berkeley. Overwhelmed with grief, she needed something to sustain her the way water had held her when she was a child learning to swim. Therapy had helped her deal with her beloved younger brother’s death, but it was not enough. A priest suggested prayer. In this exquisitely written memoir, she traces her experience of prayer from hesitant beginnings-“I left ‘God’ out of it, as I repeated the simple statement. ‘You are here, I am here'”-to regular, disciplined practice. Prayer, she told an uncle, was like writing. “If I waited for inspiration, I’d never write a word…. I had to make prayer a habit, to go to it the way I went each morning to the desk. Not to summon prayer, but to tap into what was already there.” Crittenden, whose essay on her mother’s death appeared in Best American Spiritual Writing 2004, faced repeated bereavement as she learned to trust God, herself, and others. Nowadays, she writes, “being in community holds me like a trapeze harness for sailing out over the void.” Fans of Nora Gallagher and Patricia Hampl will welcome her narrative of spiritual exploration and discovery.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“In her poignant memoir The Water Will Hold You, Lindsey Crittenden explores the evolution of her prayer life as a relationship with God. … Crittenden’s language aches with an authenticity that is beautiful and raw … Crittenden’s sentiment—so genuine and real that the reader feels like a voyeur peeking into a window of her soul— makes this book such a treasure.”

“Three years after her brother was shot to death, Lindsey Crittenden wandered into a Berkeley church — and rediscovered prayer, as revealed in The Water Will Hold You, her intensely moving saga of love and loss and love, in that order.”
— Anneli Rufus, East Bay Express Quick Picks

“Honest, gutsy and written with a poet’s ear, this book of spiritual exploration is sure to resonate with readers of all religious persuasions. ”
SRQ — Sarasota Premier Magazine

“Lindsey Crittenden’s new memoir, The Water Will Hold You: A Skeptic Learns to Pray, is by turns lyric, wise, dark, and cheerfully neurotic…. Crittenden’s prose is effortless and elegant, her sense of story engaging and true, and the people in her life delightfully drawn—especially her mercurial, tragic brother and her bright young nephew. Best of all is her voice: she attains just enough critical distance from her own good-girl neuroses to invite you to laugh at her and feel with her at the same time as she strains toward that most difficult lesson that competent people have to learn: how to release a measure of control and lean back into God. ”
— Image Update

“Technically, this isn’t Lindsey Crittenden’s first book — but it’s certainly her debut in this form: a book-length spiritual memoir with the mysteriously uncomfortable ring of a real person sorting out the strands of memory, fear, desire, disappointment and transcendent hope. Here’s hoping this is just the first of such memoirs. In [her] honest approach to the subject — lies the book’s real power. ”

“A plain, honest story of a skeptic’s voyage not only into prayer but into life.”
— Nora Gallagher, author of Changing Light

“Prayer, as Lindsey Crittenden lives it, is not some pious mental exercise, but a state of receptiveness. This is a thinking person’s spiritual book: rich, gutsy, and written with poetic grace that powers a touching family saga. The Water Will Hold You is absolutely exquisite.”
— Rachel Howard, author of The Lost Night

Q & A

There are already many books about prayer. What makes this one different?

The book is not about prayer as much as it describes one person’s—my own—individual experience. As a so-called cradle Episcopalian, I hope this book will reach across denominational lines—as well as to people who don’t belong to any denomination. Most books about prayer posit a believer’s attitude. This describes a skeptic’s journey, an ongoing process.

What is about prayer that changed your life?

Before I started praying, I didn’t know what I believed. I worried that I had to believe, and I didn’t. But after I began to pray, I saw that belief didn’t matter so much. That is, I began to trust in the experience more than needing to explain or prove it. Prayer began to feel more and more like letting go – like trust. Wonderful in some ways, terrifying in others.

There’s a lot of death in this book. Did so much loss test your faith?

No. It really strengthened my faith. I had an experience at my brother’s deathbed that was very powerful. I didn’t even think of God at the time but later, when I started to pray, that moment gave me the go-ahead I needed. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, prayer helped me be present with her and stay focused on what mattered. I felt angry at God, but that anger, that honesty, brought me closer to God.

There is a test of faith in the book – about two-thirds of the way through, I felt abandoned by God. So, yes, there are dark moments in the book. But there’s the flip side, too: joy and laughter and love. And even a happy ending.

How would you describe prayer?

The thing that amazed me was how prayer is a relationship. I expected something static – a dogma, a code of beliefs. What I found was the ups and downs, the ebb and flow, of any intimate connection. The initial skepticism, the headlong fall into infatuation, the growing comfort level, the lull of hitting a plateau, the disenchantment when you feel let down, the testing, the troubled times, the coming back together. Prayer isn’t what we expect. It meets us where we are. It’s about an attitude of openness and receptivity more than a rote recitation.

What is the most important thing you hope readers will take away from your book?

That there is no “one way” to pray. That prayer surprises us, again and again. It’s dynamic and elastic and evolving. We don’t “learn to pray” as much as we realize we are always learning to pray. It’s always showing us something new. And that that is a wonderful thing – a huge, gracious, generous gift.


From an early age, I loved to make up stories. I used to direct my dolls, and later my classmates, in plays. I loved to stay home from school sick, because it gave me an excuse to sit in bed all day and write long, elaborate, overly detailed stories. My first break as a writer came in 1996, when a story of mine won the Writers@Work Fiction Fellowship. Over the next few years, other short stories were published in literary journals and in 1999 my collection of short fiction was published.

I’ve always loved the form of the personal essay, as a writer and a reader. In the late 1990s, I started publishing personal essays in a local newspaper. I began writing for national magazines like Bon Appétit and Real Simple. When Reader’s Digest picked up an article about prayer, I heard from Benedictine monks, housewives in Michigan, and readers who parsed my words to scriptural chapter and verse. And then one day I talked to a priest friend who told me she’d been to visit a woman in the hospital, a woman who’d just had a lung transplant, a woman who was lying in bed with Reader’s Digest opened to my article on her chest. The woman’s daughter told my friend, having no idea she knew me, ‘That article is keeping my mother going.’

I realized my experience of prayer as a skeptic could reach other people, and I began writing The Water Will Hold You.