Friday, January 15, 2010

Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith by Nora Gallagher

January 15, 2010

Week two of my project to read a book a week in four different genres. This week’s book fits into the religious/spiritual genre. What I am discovering as I write daily, is that I am so much more thoughtful in my reading, even as I have to be mindful of time and number of pages. I have been teaching myself not to read just for plot, which is what I had been doing through the years. Actually, reading for my book group has trained me well for reading in depth, and writing about the book every day has also had an influence on the why of my reading.

Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith by Nora Gallagher

New York, Vintage 1999

Nora Gallagher entered the doors of Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara after years of being a very indifferent Christian, and over the span of a year, she became totally immersed in the life and community of the church, the members became her dearest friends, and the patrons of the soup kitchen where she worked the touchstones of her own humanity (and sanity).

Gallagher’s chapters follow the church year, Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost, and Ordinary Times. Her faith follows the church year as well; the reader is exposed to the ups and downs of her faith as she follows the ups and downs of the church year. I particularly liked the chapter on Epiphany when she sorts through her belief system and decides to follow Jesus. It is the story of a slow awakening to full participation. When asked why choose Christianity, she says: “Because the story is compelling to me. And because I do believe in the Incarnation. I want to believe that God Intervenes.”

Hers is a faith of worship and works. She works in the church’s soup kitchen, and some of the lighter moments in the book come from the interactions with the patrons and the patrons-turned-workers. Anyone who has worked in a soup kitchen can relate to these experiences and with her responses.

Trinity Church faces many trials during this year of change in Nora’s life including the calling of a gay priest and protests regarding operating a soup kitchen in their neighborhood. The reader is impressed with the strength of this liberal group of Christians as they grapple with the soul-wrenching work of being the Church in a changing world.

Through the year, she experiences the death of a soup kitchen patron and two very good church friends. She also has to come to grips with the cancer that is killing her brother. She says, “Out of the chaos and trauma of death, something new is written or revealed.”

This is a diary of sorts…snippets of thoughts and stories and words of wisdom. So many things she writes or remembers or quotes fill your heart with truth and spiritual honesty. She is critical of the Church even as she yearns for it and embraces it.

I really related to this book. I could see much of my life and religious experience in hers. Working at Martha’s Table, confronting the issues of homosexuality within the Methodist Church, teaching Companions in Christ at my church, and facing the death of loved ones are all examples of ways in which her religious experience parallels mine.I would highly recommend this bookit is immensely readable, full of insight, wit and depth.

Here is Nora Gallagher's website:

Others of her books are: The Sacred Meal (2009) Changing Light (novel 2007) Practicing Resurrection (2004)

Here is the website for Trinity Episcopal Church, Santa Barbara: It was very cool to find that Mark Asman who was the rector during Nora Gallagher’s year of Things Seen and Unseen is still the rector of the church.

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