Finding Faith: Joshua Doležal’s Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging

Lorene Garrett

Down from the Mountaintop CoverI grew up in the military Chapel system where all of us Protestants packed into one Sunday service, checking our specific denominations at the door. Ours was a ceremony of order, exactly one hour long. We moved through the program from opening prayer to greeting, choir’s anthem, offering, sermon, closing hymn, and benediction in the same fashion each week. No one spoke out of turn, not even to utter an Amen. Ours was a sanitized celebration of faith, and every Sunday morning I sat next to my parents on the bare mahogany pew, searching for magic and miracles, hoping to find the ecstasy of transcendence in others, as well as myself.

As a youngster, Joshua Doležal does not have to look far to find the spirit of devotion. He watches it dance alive and animated across the faces of his parents and his congregation, when they gather in his home to pray. His church is “the kind with loud preaching and tambourines jingle-jangling through the worship service.” Doležal’s dilemma? Finding that certainty of belief in himself.

In Doležal’s memoir, Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging, he explores coming-of-age as a religious skeptic in a family deeply rooted in their Pentecostal faith. Doležal writes, “my parents believed there were Christians with the gift of miraculous healing, the gift of interpreting what others were saying in tongues, the gift of prophecy, the gift of teaching, and many others.” The family faith is filled with magic, and Doležal brings that magic to life as he renders the world of his youth on the page.

If, as Eudora Welty said, "The difficulty that accompanies you is less like the dark than like a trusted lantern to see your way by," then the difficulty of Dolezal's disbelief lends itself to the lyric prose that infuses his memoir. From the moment he ushers us onto the winding road leading home, “heavy with rain...where the river is sometimes a marsh...streams churn with the earth...and there is no telling the shallows from the deeps,” the reader is swept up into the ebb and flow of his journey through spiritual uncertainty. Doležal’s memoir is as much a song of praise for the land as it is a search for belonging. His Montana mountains, infused with bears that “snuffle” and secret huckleberry patches, provide the perfect backdrop for this community of believers who claim the faith of the ‘60s Northern California hippies.

When you’re born on the mountaintop and have seen the glory of the Lord through other’s eyes, where can you go? Doležal chooses to look outside the church. He says in the life of living off the land and hours of daily devotion, baseball was the one secular activity allowed in his family. “Baseball followed Pentecostal doctrine to a surprising degree,” he writes. “Our preacher described spiritual gifts as a believer’s full inheritance, recounting how he had prayed for the gift of healing, asking God for his full reward. In church I knew I’d come up short. But on the diamond, the sacred ground I shared with my father, I came into that reward.” When Doležal hits the ball he experiences “the crack echoing down the barrel into my chest, it was like the voice of God in my throat, and my body and spirit flew together down the baseline.”

What a delight that as Doležal helps us inhabit the church of baseball, weightlifting, and girls. We celebrate his reverence for the land as he travels to Tennessee, Uruguay, and Idaho. In the Bible, God called on Joshua to lead the Israelites after the death of Moses. With this memoir, Joshua Doležal leads the reader on a literary excursion to heaven.

Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging
by Joshua Doležal
University of Iowa Press, 2014
ISBN 9781609382490



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