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Sacrament of friendship

by Valerie Weaver-Zercher

finished this epistolary memoir the same day that the conclave of cardinals chose the new pope. Watching that white smoke billow from the chimney of the Vatican, I and millions of other viewers were moved by this mysterious, ancient form of communication. That lovely smoke both disclosed information and obscured it: it told us that there was a new pope and reminded us how little we knew. Although writing letters is not as antiquated as sending smoke signals, reading letters between other people can feel a little like watching the Vatican chimney. Even as we learn about the correspondents, we are reminded that we stand outside a conclave of two. The reader becomes a silent correspondent of sorts, conversing with the authors as she reads but remaining ever on the outside looking in. Love and Salt is full of sacramental imagination. Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith render things like a walk through a graveyard, a dream about an elevator, and a Neil Young song into something else entirely. Seeing Catholicly is how Catholic poet and scholar Angela Alaimo ODon nell describes this type of literary envisioning. Catholic poetry, she writes, is corporeal, perhaps even bloodyminded, in its insistence upon an embodied, incarnate faith; it is grim in its acknowledgement of the presence and power of real evil in the world; and it is ultimately hopeful in its assertion of the meaning of suffering and in its persistent search for God even when God seems absent. Though they do not shrink from irrever-

ence (Griffith at one point wonders whether the Eucharist is only bread and wine, and a little man waving his hands over the table), these writers are practiced at seeing Catholicly: casting a sacramental glance at the world and writing about whatand Whothey find there. Andrews and Griffith met in a creative writing class, where they discovered that both of their writing lives revolved around faith. We were both careful to conceal any current conviction, sensing we wouldnt be taken seriously if we admitted to belief. But for a second our eyes met across the table: What, you too? The biblical story of the love between Ruth and Naomi became a lodestar for their relationship. In these two womenremoved from us by centuries and cultureswe received a vision of friendship, a way of walking with each other toward God. Griffith grew up in New Orleans, with a Catholic faith marked by superstition, magic and sensory appeal. Her mother got cancer when Griffith was a young teen, and her parents, seeking a church that espoused faith healing, landed in a Pentecostal congregation. When her mother died, her father remained in the Pentecostal tradition, but Griffith re turned to the faith of her childhood. Andrews, who grew up in a close-knit agnostic family, converted to Catholicism and asked Griffith to be her sponsor. Their correspondence began during Lent 2005, in the weeks leading up to Andrewss full initiation into the church. They pledged to write an old-fashioned, handwritten letter to each other every day. This discipline became the basis for a correspondence that framed their lives through the next several years of job

Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters

By Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith Loyola Press, 324 pp., $14.95 paperback

transitions, marriage, pregnancies, motherhood and loss. Grief edges many of the letters, and the grief that results from a tragedy that occurred during the time of their correspondence sometimes threatens to narrow the books purview. But their talent as writers means that they know how to render the specific clothes of their grief into universal garments. They question how God intervenes in the world, what providence looks like and whether Chris tians are deluded about the whole thing. With their earthy descriptions of ashes on the forehead and the linea nigra on a pregnant body, with Griffiths distressing sense of evil in the room during a party, and with their refusal to surrender to the allure of agnosticism, its as if they had read ODonnells definition of what it takes to see Catholicly. The passion of the prose both elevates this book to a literary creation and is likely to leave some readers feeling the urge for a nap. One line by Andrews anticipates readers sense of standing outside of a dyad, unable to comprehend the intensity within it. It is almost impossible to enter into other peoples love, she writes about a television show that has been panned for being sentimental. From the perspective of a distant acquaintance, the emotion of a wedding
Valerie Weaver-Zercher is the author of Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels.

Christian Century May 29, 2013

or funeral always seems overdone. Still, through wide and intelligent references not only to their own lives and conclusions but to the writings of Catholic saints and literary giants, Andrews and Griffith turn Love and Salt into much more than a mutual navel gaze. Although it is true that digital communication has almost completely obliterated the practice of letter writing, Andrews and Griffith do not to turn their book into a screed against e-mail, texting or instant messaging. They dont have to. The length, breadth, depth and lyricism of their prose make their own case for the physicality of the authors medium. Andrews writes that their correspondence has helped to make God more explicit in her world. Having discovered that the Latin root of explicit means to unfold, smooth out, she writes, We press God out in the pages of our letters, ironing and ironing, like two oldfashioned women. We mail him back and forth, and pile him up, like a basket of linen. In one early letter in their correspondence, Andrews recalls their pilgrimage to see a large collection of relics. Andrews, who was still a catechumen, writes of walking with Griffith among the skulls and femurs and molars of saintsthe scattered, carved-up remains of holiness that left them cold. She remembers that Griffith whispered to her that she might throw up, and she writes, It was now upon us to see past the horror to God. What made it possible for Andrews to stayamong the relics and, ultimately, in religion itselfwas her friend and the sustenance their relationship offered when her faith foundered. Whither thou goest, I will go, Andrews declares. What showed it to me, that glimmer of holiness beyond the bones, was your presence there. At the time it took the form of a dare: Ill stay if you stay. If you can believe despite all this, then so can I. We stood there, amid the skulls, in awe of our shared desire to still believe, the desire our unspoken dare seemed to reveal. It is a moving inversion of Ruths promise to Naomi.

Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community

By Christopher L. Heuertz Howard Books, 240 pp., $14.99 paperback

hat does it mean to be mainline Protestant? For some it means being Christian, but not evangelical, or not Catholic, or not a member of some other group perceived to be inadequate. Others imagine the tall steeple on Main Street, or the majority of the electorate, or some other icon of Christendoms passing power. What I want the mainline to be like is Word Made Flesh, a 22-year-old mission organization headquartered in Omaha and led by Christopher L. Heuertz, author of Unexpected Gifts. The people at WMF have the zeal for Jesus and the passion to change the world that are hallmarks of their Wesleyan heritage. They add the contemplative spirituality of Franciscan friar Richard Rohr and friendship with the most vulnerable of the worlds poor, which Heuertz learned personally at the feet of Mother Teresa. The folks at WMF also engage in the critical inquiry and pursue the life of reading and learning that are still sometimes the hallmarks of us magisterial Protestants. Phyllis Tickle has deemed Heuertz and his cohorts (Fleshies, as they call themselves) exemplars of the new friars movement. In contrast to new monastics, who can tend to pursue community for communitys sake, new friars are Protestants in radical engagement with the worlds need. The result is great fruit for the whole church. WMF doesnt just talk about need; it comes near to it. It doesnt just assert that God doesnt want children to be sexually exploited; it helps them escape exploitation. This is Heuertzs third book. Friend ship at the Margins, coauthored with ethicist Christine Pohl, and Simple Spirit uality were less ambitious. This one is produced by a major New York house (Howard Books is an imprint of Simon & Schuster) and is aimed at least partly

Bible Gender Sexuality

Reframing the Churchs Debate on Same-Sex Relationships
James V. Brownson
Foreword by

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson

A masterful work on human sexuality in light of Scripture.

Brian McLaren
An outstanding presentation of academic scholarship to general readers. . . . This strikes to the heart of the Bible-versushomosexuality fracas.
(starred review)


ISBN 978-0-8028-6863-3 312 pages paperback $29.00

At your bookstore, or call 800-253-7521 www.eerdmans.com


Reviewed by Jason Byassee, senior pastor at Boone United Methodist Church in North Carolina.

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

2140 Oak Industrial Dr NE Grand Rapids MI 49505


Christian Century May 29, 2013