One of the advantages of reading a poet’s conversion memoir is that you don’t get the typical chronological, straight-through narrative. While many of the straight-forward conversion stories are well written, engaging, and informative, Angela’s book is all that as well as being lyrical, metaphorical, and more than usually insightful.
Angela was born and raised as a German Catholic in a solidly Catholic Cincinnati neighborhood, which left her rooted and knowing “who I was in the world.” Her story begins in the “muddy middle” because, as she points out, “I am in the middle, always nearly at my next destination . . .” As are we all.
Her introduction explains the organization of the book, using the metaphor of a three-way intersection, because “(t)he places where three streets intersect are most often congested and convoluted . . . as though in the middle of these intersections we lose our way.” She relates these streets that intersect to memory, intuition, and intention, as well as to past, present, and future, naming them “East and West,” “Giants in the Road,” and “Into the Roar.” All three sections are aptly named.
While the book isn’t strictly chronological, nevertheless, through her skillful use of tying past, present, and future together through images, memories, and metaphor under each section theme, we still get a coherent, honest, and insightful look into her growing up, then leaving the trappings of Catholicism (although it’s clear, that she never totally abandoned her childhood faith, and she certainly didn’t turn her back on God), her wanderings through the Protestant expressions of faith and her introduction to the Orthodox church (we owe Scott Cairns a thank you for that), and her journey to chrismation into the Orthodox faith. Through that, we also learn of how she learned of her brokenness and that healing can happen.
She teaches us, through the wanderings back and forth in time, the dodging and weaving around the giants in the road, and the courage with which she faces the roar, that we are all broken, we are all in need of healing, and that it is in the church that we can find the spiritual help we need. Without ever once saying so, Angela underlines the timelessness of our faith and how the most ancient of wisdom is still relevant and pertinent to us today in the cacophony of the modern world, for those of us who try to balance our commitment to God with the demands of the culture and people around us. She describes the road to God as “dusty and wide, . . . arduous and beautiful,” but as one that offers “company, promise and revelation.” Ultimately, she shows us with her particularity of experience that the unending journey to God is remedial. The word comes from the Latin remedialis, meaning “healing, curing,” and through her experience, she points out that “Everything about faith is this. Everything.”
While the book is a memoir of one modern woman’s journey to the ancient Orthodox faith, it speaks to all Orthodox, because of the realization of what our faith is, what our journey is, and what our destination is. As such, it’s a wonderfully encouraging and enlightening read, whether for yourself, a friend, or an enquirer.
Nearly Orthodox by Angela Doll Carlson
Ancient Faith Publishing (formerly Conciliar Press)
ISBN 98-1-936270-96-5 291 pages
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