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A poet’s journey from atheism to Catholicism

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Sally Read explains why she thinks the Mass is a beautiful poem

Poet Sally Read has written an honest and passionate account of her dramatic conversion in 2010 from atheism to Catholicism in her recently published book, Night’s Bright Darkness: A Modern Conversion Story (Ignatius Press). Having already encountered Sally’s articles and poetry, I am keen to tease out the book’s deeper themes.

I asked Sally why she uses the word “poem” to describe the Church. Sally defined a poem as when “ideas and images are coherent and spring from a lucid initial inspiration (Christ in the case of the Church).” She went on to explain:

“They don’t deviate from that inspiration and are not in contradiction to it. In a perfect poem (i.e. the Church), if you mess with any integral part, you lose the sense.”

She added: “The Mass itself is a wonderful poem – the defining drama of our relationship with God. It’s beautiful to see how the language of prayer and scripture is coherent with doctrine and one’s own experience of God.”

How has her faith influenced her poetry and her writing in general? Sally admits “I’ve undergone a crisis of faith with poetry just as I’ve discovered the Faith. The problem with contemporary poetry is that it’s become extremely subjective and thus also somewhat solipsistic.”

“Once the great Truths began to be rejected by society, poets lost a great deal. Poetry, for me, is ultimately about connecting with the Creator (God being the ultimate poet). Once you break that pact, you’re left with something that can be too introspective.”

She added: “Not all contemporary poetry is that way but it’s been a trend over the last fifty years or so…All of which has made me turn to writing non-fiction – my conversion story – and now fiction. People still need stories.”

Which Catholic writers particularly attract her? She tells me her favourites “would include Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Georges Bernanos, Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor said that novels are concerned with the soul’s salvation or damnation.” Now, she adds, “I want to discover contemporary Catholic novelists.” She cites the writings of Benedict XVI as an inspiration: “His is such a prophetic voice; so lucid and yet so profound.”

Finally, I ask Sally what advice she would give to those thinking of becoming a Catholic. She replies unhesitatingly and emphatically: “Go to Adoration. Go and sit with the Blessed Sacrament. Go to Mass. Get as close to the Real Presence of Christ as often as you can. And don’t delay the conversion; when you receive the Sacraments they transform you.”

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1 comment

  1. Tom Rafferty Reply

    Unless one is able and willing to view reality from an evidential perspective instead of the emotional appeal emblematic of this article, one will never truly face reality.

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