Book Talk: SAFFRON CROSS, by J. Dana Trent

Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk
J. Dana Trent (Facebook) (Twitter)
Fresh Air Books (2013), trade paper (ISBN 1935205161 / 9781935205166)
Nonfiction: memoir/spirituality, 144 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (October 18, 2013). Shelf Awareness provided a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review and compensation for the review they received and published.

She was nurtured by one small-town Baptist church, formed by another, and ordained as a minister at the age of twenty-one, shortly before entering the graduate program at Duke Divinity School. Dana Trent struggled with her faith sometimes, but her experience and worldview were solidly Christian. When she signed up with an online-dating site and completed her profile, she could hardly imagine being matched with someone from a different background, and was astonished to be introduced to a former monk–and a Hindu monk, at that.

Saffron Cross is Trent’s account of the early years of her relationship with her husband Fred, who had learned that while the monastic life didn’t suit him, the spiritual practices of Hinduism most certainly did. While marriages between people from different religious traditions are increasingly common, the partners usually have some shared frame of reference; Dana and Fred barely speak the same spiritual language. Learning to communicate across the gulf between their belief systems adds another layer to the everyday challenges of newlywed life, and at times Dana wonders whether they can make their East-West interfaith marriage work without compromising their individual values. She’ll eventually realize that her Christian spiritual journey is enriched, not diminished, by the influence of her husband’s Hinduism.

Trent’s story is one in which the personal is not so much political as it is ecumenical, and in the widest possible way. In Saffron Cross, she introduces readers to the Hindu beliefs and practices she has learned through Fred, and explores how they have reshaped and strengthened her own Christianity. This is not “A Guide to Making Your Interfaith Marriage Work,” but as Trent works through how she and her husband have made their interfaith marriage work, Saffron Cross develops into a genuinely inspiring and enlightening story.

Opening lines: “While the rest of America digested fried turkey, I sat at a computer in the apartment I shared with my mother and checked several hundred boxes describing my temperament and habits. I pored over endless squares indicating my desires in a partner: values, physical attributes, nature, habits, spirituality, religion, or lack thereof. I worked hard to spare myself from a psychopathic, balding smoker with a TV addiction and moved onto more sacred matters.The eHarmony television commercials had been enticing: a silver-haired Dr. Neil Clark Warren boasted that, for the price of new shoes, his lengthy questionnaire would help me meet the love of my life.”

Dana Trent regales us with the intriguing story of how she, a minister ordained in the Southern Baptist tradition, fell in love with and married Fred Eaker, a devout Hindu and former monk. After meeting on eHarmony, the couple begins a sometimes daunting but ultimately inspiring journey of interfaith relationship and marriage. From her sex-free honeymoon to her struggles with curbing cheeseburger cravings while adjusting to vegetarianism, Trent’s refreshingly honest and often hilarious vignettes offer a glimpse into the challenges of bringing two vastly different spiritual paths together in one household.
The most surprising part of their journey? Dana’s relationship with her Hindu husband helps her cultivate a deeper walk with God.

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