Stories of faith

Tennesse isn’t California, and Nashville isn’t Santa Barbara, but there are scenes and reflections in Nora Gallagher’s Things Seen And Unseen: A Year Lived In Faith, that resonate with what I hear from people in and around the church. Commercially, the book is old news; it was a bestseller in the late 90’s. But that also means you can get it really cheap from used book sellers.

When I returned to church in 1979, I did not know why. I was and am an ordinary person with ordinary concerns. I’m an ordinary member of my generation. But I am almost always the only practicing Christian at a dinner party, often the only “religious” person, certainly the only one who attends a church regularly, believes in God, prays, has a denomination. Throughout much of the eighties, I knew this about myself in secret and never mentioned it to anyone outside the Church, as if I were gay and still in the closet. (p. 64)

As far as being in the closet is concerned, Nashville is probably the San Francisco of United States Christianity, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into high comfort levels of talking about our relationship with God.

The cause of my secrecy was largely embarrassment. I feared being thought of as fundamentalist or stupid or both. From the time I started attending church again in my late twenties to my middle thirties, I kept my secret. While my friends (…) knew I went to Mass, we rarely spoke about it. To be fair, I didn’t know how to speak about it. My faith at the beginning wasn’t coherent: what words came out were sentimental, defensive, distorted, like bulbs that bloom too early are bitten by frost. (p. 64-65)

Are you afraid of embarrassing yourself talking about how your faith shapes who you are and what you do? I used to, until I became more comfortable with who I am and who I am becoming (which, of course, has been a result of my faith shaping my life). The hard thing is to simply be honest, because honesty makes us vulnerable. On a work trip to New Orleans, back in December and early January, we (ages ranging from 6 to 82 years old) told each other stories every night, simple, honest, beautiful and moving stories. All of them were our responses to a simple question, “Where did you see God today?” You can ask yourself that question every night, and write your answers in a journal. Or better yet, you can ask your spouse, your child, your best friend; it’s a much better invitation to deepening your relationship than “How was your day?”

And if you want to learn from a woman who tells her stories with honesty and beauty, I recommend that old bestseller by Nora Gallagher.