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I don't like the word "memoir," and not just because it sounds like a French antique (as in, "Darling, fetch the sherry from the memoir"). It's an old-world, aristocratic term, too frail to govern the whole unruly territory of autobiographical writing. Prime ministers pen memoirs. So do aging film stars and war heroes. The rest of us write journals, reflections, and thoughtful ramblings too long or too private to give out in person.
Nora Gallagher's Practicing Resurrection: A Memoir of Work, Doubt, Discernment, and Moments of Grace is actually a piece of reflective journalism—occasionally dreamy and poetic, but more often clear-eyed and analytical. It's a sequel to Gallagher's first book, Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith, where she tells about her unlikely return to the Episcopal church of her childhood. A casual visit to a small congregation in Santa Barbara led her to a fresh discovery of faith and Christian community. In Practicing Resurrection, Gallagher chronicles the following years in which she considered entering the priesthood, even taking initial steps toward ordination. The first step was to form a "discernment" committee of friends in the parish to help determine where God was truly calling her. The group met three hours a month for the next year, discovering the process as they went along:
If someone from outside the church had been a fly on the wall during our discernment sessions, she or he would have seen five people sitting together around various dining-room tables mostly in silence. Every now and then, someone would speak. If anything was an example of how the church differs from the secular, this was it. We sat. We waited. I am not sure any of us knew what exactly we were doing in the beginning—we had no "training"—but we took to it, awkwardly at first and then more easily, as if returning to an old, ill-used language. As the year wore on, we became more familiar with what I came to call "the pull." A particular image or question would ...