Booked: Reading My Way Back to Faith

I accidentally read my way back to church in graduate school. I hadn’t been any kind of practicing Christian since early childhood, but I’d always been a reader, and in those three years, I read more widely and deeply than ever.

I was in training, an MFA candidate preparing to write the story of me: the coming of age of a Louisiana girl trapped in a fringe group of far-out Christians. It was going to be cool and detached and funny, of course. But something happened. Near the end of my reading list, in my last months of the program, I stopped thinking it was all so funny and started believing.

In my research I’d sought out books of theology and stories of conversion, but in the end, it wasn’t Augustine, Merton or Lewis who convinced me—at least, not in isolation. In classes I was studying film as literature, the New Journalists, short stories and memoirs and criticism, and for the first time in my life, poetry that wasn’t a Shakespearean sonnet.

It wasn’t any one book but the collective impression of all that work that sent me back to the pews, convinced there was something vast and eternal governing all, and yet so near and small as to fit in my palm, in a book, in a wafer of bread. [Read more...]

Orthodoxy and the Returns of Love

This summer marks the eleventh year of my conversion. I’ve spent the past eleven years standing awkwardly at post-church coffee hours, nodding at sermons, and weeping at baptisms.

And this summer, a few more motions were added to the litany of my frail, fragile movements in the church: I began crossing myself, bowing towards icons, and opening my mouth to receive warmed wine, blessed bread, the body of Christ pooled on the edge of a spoon.

I became Orthodox in the same month that I became a wife, and the rich irony of both occasions is not lost on me.

My husband, who grew up Episcopalian, converted to Orthodoxy in college, and my background in the Reformed church gave us an interesting courtship, where dates included vespers and long discussions about Marilynne Robinson and St. Athanasius. [Read more...]

Of Monks, Conversion, and Radio Astronomy, Part 2

Guest Post
By Richard Cole

—Continued from yesterday.

On my second day at the abbey, I bounced around, trying to listen, to feel, to be in the moment like Carmen advised. It was a tough slog.

“Waste time. Waste time,” I told myself, checking my watch.

At lunch with the brothers, I casually mentioned that I was in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) now. I waited for congratulations but everyone just nodded. One of the brothers asked, “Have you seen the library? You might find that useful.”

After lunch, I found the library. Everything was orderly and well-arranged. I felt calm, the way I do in a workshop, surrounded by tools and lumber. I wandered over to an old Royale typewriter sitting on a small table. On top was a note written in a spidery, elegant hand: [Read more...]

Of Monks, Conversion, and Radio Astronomy, Part 1

By Richard Cole
Guest Post

In the middle of life, I fell in love. For my forty-ninth birthday, my wife Lauren gave me a three-day visit by myself at a monastery in South Texas. I went there simply to read for a while and relax. I wasn’t a believer in much of anything, I wasn’t religious, and while I was there, I didn’t see any visions or hear voices.

But when I came back, I was on a path. Something had happened. An invisible hand was pressing me in the small of my back, propelling me forward.

At the monastery, I wondered whether the monks would try to convert their guest. I’d been around evangelists before. I kept waiting for someone to approach me with a carnivorous twinkle in his eye and ask, “Are you saved, my son?” [Read more...]


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