It would be many religious parents’ nightmare. Their sweet innocent child goes off into the world, only to get caught in a confusing tangle of debauchery and abuse. Did they not protect her? No. The problem is that the church was over protective. They thought she would be protected by simple ideals. But this left her unprepared. Terribly unprepared to deal with the world—not of the ideal world of evangelical dreams, but the world as it actually is in all its mess. This is a coming of age story.
On Her Knees is a “Memoir of a Prayerful Jezebel” penned by Brenda Marie Davies. Before I go further, I must acknowledge the incredible vulnerability Davies has taken by sharing her darkest secrets in this book. I don’t want to take this lightly. Brenda was a mess—or at least she has revealed the messiest parts of her life. She certainly hasn’t hidden her faults, indeed she is rather matter of fact about them. Yet because she explains her side of the story and the influences which led to certain actions, more so than being self critical, some may take this as excuses or justification.
So why would Davies choose to reveal so much of her personal secrets? No doubt it is out of desire to help others. Brenda can’t personally mentor many women, but she can potentially help thousands through the writing of her story. From this stand point, this book is mostly for women.
The most important aspects of the book are the parts which will be most relatable to many women. The feelings of not being honest with ones self or others, of feeling pressured to be certain ways and not others, the pressure as well as honest desire to be good, wanting to fit in, belong, but not feeling good enough. Brenda no doubt wants others to learn from her mistakes and, in so doing, to avoid some of the pain which she has experienced.
Certainly one of the big influences which Davies identifies as harmful was her evangelical background—and purity culture specifically. I don’t think it would be fair to blame all her troubles on this, but certainly it was a primary influence behind her crazy ideas and feelings regarding relationships. This combined with guilt and an absence of instruction on how to approach relationships and sex in a healthy way led to a long string of poor choices. This is why Brenda is passionate about people receiving healthy sex/relationship education and also why she exposes the harms of purity culture. I very much support her in this. (I learned of the circles of sexuality—which inspired my recent blog “Sex Education”—via an interview on Brenda’s podcast, God is Grey.) Davies doesn’t come across as bitter, yet she has still been hurt and she’s not afraid to express anger at the causes.
For those concerned about these kind of things, the book would certainly be R-rated if it were a movie. There is language, sex, and drugs. None of the sex is very explicit, however the number of relationships and the stories related to them make this book read somewhat like a romance novel. (Well, I imagine this to be the case as I haven’t read any romance novels.) Also, Davies sits firmly in the progressive camp and as such, many conservatives will probably respond to her story with sentiments that “she didn’t do it right” or “she didn’t try hard enough” or worst of all, “she deliberately chose to compromise/give into sin”.
With all this said, unfortunately I think the writing in the book is subpar. Davies flows between recounting her experience and sharing her point of view. The stories, especially later in the book, are frequently unclear. This is in contrast to how she verbalizes the same experiences on her podcast and YouTube channel much clearer. In the book, one gets the general gist of what she is saying, but many of the stories feel rushed. It’s as though only the bare bones are covered, but the real emotional sense and importance is lost. Beyond this, it at times became confusing as to who said what and exactly what was going on. In a way though, perhaps this serves the story. Perhaps the jagged writing reflects the sense of living through that period in haze and confusion. Nevertheless, I found this disappointing because I felt it could have been so much better.
Due to the weaknesses in the writing, I give this book a 2.5 out of 5. However, I still think some people—women in particular—will benefit from reading this book. I believe it will help women understand their own stories, help them to learn how to be healthier in relationships, give them a better picture of what healthy relationships should be like, and let them know they’re not alone in their experiences.