In his collection of essays, Grace Notes, Brian Doyle writes about telling a story about his friend who was killed in the September 11 attacks, noting his “theory that every story I tell about Tommy is a prayer for his brilliant soul.” He writes essays about how nuns are the ones who have held the Church together, which will resonate with anyone who has ever loved or been moved by a Sister. He quotes Thomas Merton on silence as the voice of God, and he quotes a woman he met on a public bus who firmly asserts that, “God is not a suggesting box” as a way to explain why not all requests of the Almighty are granted. And he is a writer after every progressive Catholic’s heart when he asserts that, “We would have a far healthier church if we were far more honest about love in all its wild and confusing forms — all of which are, in the end, God, yes?”
In the midst of his provocative reflections on Catholicism and life, he also holds tight to the same Catholic rituals that many of us hold dear, offering a new insight about their necessity in an ever-more-digital world: “As the century gets ever more electronic and virtual and remote, we will ever-more turn to the tactile, the actual, to wood and wool, stone and bone, cloth and paper. To stories we can touch. We yearn and thirst for what is real, what was born in the ancient earth.”
Brian Doyle does not shy away from what is real, as his essays cover everything from the craziness of marriage to the sadness (according to him) of pornography. But what surprised me most about this book were not the essays tying all forms of love to God, or outlining the theology of a childless woman on a bus. What surprised me most were how many of the essays made no overt reference to Catholicism or even to God. Wait a minute, I thought when I encountered these essays; aren’t these all supposed to be about Catholicism?
And yet, the absence of such blatant references in a book like this only inspires one to look even deeper, to realize that for Brian, and for many of us, our every experience of life, our every experience of the Holy, is infused with our latent Catholicism whether we acknowledge it or not. And if each story we tell is a prayer, then this book is a beautiful collection of prayers about nuns, mothers, wives, children, and strangers — many of whom any reader will recognize.
Reflecting upon Jesus’ promise that he has gone ahead to “prepare a place for you,” Doyle adds, “But we are already in the doorway of that house, don’t you think?”
This is a book about day-to-day living, and all the beautiful, sad, and holy things that happen within that doorway.