The Way Up Is Down
Christianity Today Award of Merit in Spiritual Formation
"Now, with God's help, I shall become myself."
These words from Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard resonate deeply with Marlena Graves, a Puerto Rican writer, professor, and activist. In these pages she describes the process of emptying herself that allows her to move upward toward God and become the true self that God calls her to. Drawing on the rich traditions of Eastern and Western Christian saints, she shares stories and insights that have enlivened her transformation. For Marlena, formation and justice always intertwine on the path to a balanced life of both action and contemplation.
If you long for more of God, this book offers a time-honored path to deeper life.
"I know of no one who cares less for the superficial 'worries of this life' (Mt 13:22) than Marlena Graves. She is a voice calling out in our generation, beckoning us to a vision of Christ that has nearly been drowned out by the rise of self-help pseudo-Christianity. And this book? This book is her heart on paper. If you want to sit under a spiritual giant, and if you want to remember just what kind of freedom we are called to in Christ, do not miss this message."
"We have forgotten the way of Jesus—this one who 'calls us to stoop,' writes Marlena Graves. In her newest book, The Way Up Is Down, Graves's voice is bold and prophetic, calling each of us out of the wilderness of self-will to repent of our lust for power and material greed. But this isn't just a book. It's the compelling witness of a life: a woman born into poverty and racial oppression, who sees and loves the lowly and invites us to become like them."
"It is a rare and sacred gift for a writer to serve her raw heart—tender and salted with tears—to nourish the world. The Way Up Is Down is a profound act of Christlike service. Honest, poignant, and lyrical, this is a book that shows what it tells. It's unforgettable, incisive, and deeply needed. Thank you, Marlena, for sharing your precious gift—your story, your yearning for a better way. I am inspired."
"When conversations about discipleship or living into the kingdom of God seem heady and out of reach, I turn to writers like Marlena whose feet are firmly on the ground. She gives us a path to walk and practices to embody our big hopes and dreams about the upside-down ways of Jesus. If you've ever wondered how the last will be first (and what that even means for someone with privilege), Marlena is a faithful companion and guide to you. She is bold and pastoral—a rare combination—and best of all, she is the real deal. She has never lost sight of the people for whom this gospel is such good news, and in her words there is an invitation for all of us."
"In an age marked by the idols of power, wealth, and prestige—in the church no less than in the culture—comes a quiet voice to remind us that God gives grace to the humble, and the meek will inherit the earth. Marlena Graves doesn't just write about these biblical truths—she lives them. The Way Up Is Down will reset your moral compass, clear your vision of the cultural dust, and direct you back to the only one who can make your paths straight."
"In a world clamoring for spotlight, status, and success, Marlena helpfully calls us back to the ancient wisdom of the church: that true life is found in dying and true significance in giving yourself away. Jesus is our trailblazer as we embark on this path of the kingdom, whose own way up to exaltation was found through laying down his life for us, and he beckons us to now follow in his stead."
"Marlena writes with passionate urgency, nuance, and spiritual substance. She offers a much-needed word for a culture that prizes identity in what we achieve and make of ourselves. I found myself truly enriched by her powerful vision of relinquishment for the truly significant and flourishing life offered by Christ."
"In The Way Up Is Down, Marlena reminds us that we serve the world well when we are emptied out. Through powerful stories and thoughtful prompts, she asks us to consider what it means to follow a Jesus who often does what we least expect—who serves and loves in a way that turns everything upside down. I'm grateful for her voice in this world."
"This honest and intimate book reveals the truth of God's humility and invites us all into God's wonders. What an important read for the modern Christian!"
"A book that will challenge every perception of leadership. Marlena takes you through a journey of emptying your privilege, power obsession, position climbing, and the multifaceted pecking order to discover a holy exchange. It will literally wreck your soul. The Way Up Is Down is a sacred interlude that will lead readers into a holy place of vulnerability. It will cause you to reframe and define what it means to be an authentic leader in a world distracted with vain celebrity culture."
"Marlena Graves's The Way Up Is Down is a tour de force. Crackling with the electricity of Spirit, witty, tender, wise, vulnerable, gorgeously written—it's futuristic in what it brings together. Yet we read it with the deep knowing that ancient truths are being cracked open here. Both theologically robust and pulsing with life, alternately humble and deeply challenging, this is the kind of fresh, bold, prophetic, and pastoral witness we desperately need right now. The truth of the downward path of Jesus—his way of descent—is articulated with revelatory clarity."
"Breathtaking. A stunning achievement. This book aches for us, daring to offer its own raw beauty, courage, and unflinching light. What's most gorgeous about Marlena Graves's humbling book, however, is its call for moral imagination, even among we who are wounded. If we fall broken at Jesus' feet, she teaches, we will all heal by his grace—mended and scarred but lifted together. What a brave, rare book for these unlikely times. An honor to read, it's one of the most exciting theological reflections in recent memory."
"Before I devoured The Way Up Is Down, I already had a profound respect for Marlena Graves's prophetic voice. Her words only confirmed what I already knew: this is an essential message for our times. With a blend of storytelling, theology, and prophetic exhortation, Marlena manages to be fierce without being hard, tender without being fluffy, and bold without being flashy. She's worn trenches of faithfulness into the paths she now leads readers on. Marlena points the way to the true kingdom, offering permission to drop the world's addiction of hustling for worth by being first, and instead embrace an identity in which the Gospel is good news for those already spent. If you want a starting point for what it means to flourish in Christ, this is the book for you."
1. Self-Emptying: The Mystery of Our Salvation
2. Down Low with Jesus
3. All Flame
4. Daily Returning Home
5. Do You See What I See?: Transfiguration
6. Our Teachers: Messengers of Grace
7. Rich Toward God
8. Memento Mori
9. Cradled in the Heart of God: Gratitude and Contentment
10. Incarnating the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Your Kingdom Come