Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith

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Topics: Spiritual Exploration & Practice. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith

  1. Review

    Nora Gallagher is a journalist by profession. She has reported for Time and Life magazines. Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The Village Voice, Mother Jones and the Utne Reader. She was baptized in the Episcopal Church when she was fifteen and dropped out when she was twenty. One day in the late 1980’s she visited Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, California.

    Describing herself as a "returnee" of the "boomer" generation, she told herself that she came to the church seeking peace, which she understood, at the time, as comfort. During the next few months she "dropped in on Trinity" several times a month.

    She writes, "I kept wondering why I was there but couldn’t leave. The priest seemed depressed; the congregation dwindled: in a church that held four hundred, eighty to one hundred and twenty attended Mass on Sunday, five or six during the week. Very few people spoke to me at the coffee hour."

    "Then in the midst of this unhappy place, funny things began to happen." She was involved in helping to start a soup kitchen in the parish hall. She participated in a candlelight vigil for the Jesuit priests and their housekeepers who were killed in El Salvador in the spring of 1990. She became a member of a prayer and Bible study group. She "learned how to speak to a crowd, how to write prayers, help a friend die." She experienced community and learned that "everything is God’s."

    In the midst of it all she learned something about faith, "its mucky nature, how it lies down in the mud with the pigs and the rabble." Instead of the peace of comfort, she "got ‘The peace of God that passes all understanding,’ as the prayer book says – or as an old Irish hymn goes, ‘The peace of God –it is no peace."’ These experiences marked the beginning of her pilgrimage of faith, which she describes in this extraordinary book.

    The author weaves her tapestry of A Year Lived in Faith on the loom of the liturgical year from Advent through Pentecost, which she discovered, tells of "journeys and mysteries, things ‘seen and unseen,’ the world of the almost known." Each chapter begins with her reflections on the meaning of the season and the ways it is reflected in the Scriptures, and in the worship and the traditions of the church. It is in this context that she describes her year of searching and finding in the midst of the community of a parish. There she "got to know and feel that interconnectedness, the web of relationships formed in a house where people are trying to keep their souls alive, attempting a resuscitation."

    With perception and sensitivity, she describes serving the homeless who are guests in the parish soup kitchen, coping with the encounters which occur, and savoring the relationships which develop. She sits with a friend dying of AIDS and another with cancer while she struggles with her brother’s fatal illness. She tells of her experiences as a Lay Eucharistic Minister and of her term serving on the Vestry, which struggled with the issues of calling a priest who is a gay man as their Rector.

    The author’s story of her year lived in faith in the midst of a community of faith is illuminating and inspiring. One can only hope that there are more parishes like Trinity Church, Santa Barbara, where, when people visit, "funny things" begin to happen. The "funny things" that happen may be the work of the Holy Spirit, which the author says "may or may not give a damn about results, but cares about the process of getting there."

    From Things Seen and Unseen:

    "Once, at Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara . . . a young cleric sat down at a table with me and a great bishop of the church, Daniel Corrigan. Dan was in his eighties, at the time retired, still strong as an ox. For most of his life he had defied authority for the sake of compassion . . . As we were eating together the young priest was suddenly overcome with earnestness. ‘Bishop Corrigan,’ he asked through a mouthful of French toast, ‘What would you die for?’ ‘Water rights,’ Dan replied, without missing a beat . . . Dan smiled. ‘Why not?’ he asked. He continued, ‘You don’t actually get up one morning and decide to die for something. You put your foot on a path and walk. One day, you look back, maybe fifty years, and say, ‘That’s what I gave my life for.’ I understood Trinity was where I was meant to be, to muck around, to unlearn habits, to give my life."

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