wrongtrainrighttime: (Default)
Wrong Train, Right Time ([personal profile] wrongtrainrighttime) wrote2017-03-12 10:08 pm

And Then There Were Nuns by Jane Christmas

Christmas, Jane. And Then There Were Nuns: Adventures in a Cloistered Life. Greystone Books, 2013. Finished 3/10/2017.

I snapped up this book on a whim. There was an ebook sale, and this was one of the (several) nonfiction options that I found intriguing. And after reading the preview, I was well and truly hooked.

The premise of this memoir is that Christmas decides to seriously explore, once and for all, whether or not to follow the religious calling she's heard all her life and to become a nun -- and she makes this decision just as her boyfriend proposes to her. This is the most immediate and obvious tension, but to my mind it's not really the central one. But I'll get to that in a bit.

I have to start off by saying that I'm not a spiritual or religious person. At all. The closest sensation I get is a lingering resentment at my mom's occasional and ultimately futile attempts to turn my family into a proper church-going family. So I will admit that I picked up this memoir because I was interested in a deep dive into a mindset, a way of life, that's frankly totally alien to me. So the chance for some insight into both the details of how Christmas practices her faith and into her personal relationship with her faith were a big part of the appeal of this book for me.

Make no mistake, this book isn't about a dilettante or observer. Christmas is utterly serious about her desire to become a nun, and one feels the weight of that choice as a constant pressure throughout her journey. Throughout the book, she grapples not with what she learns of the actual lifestyle, but also with her faith and what it means to her, and the difference between her faith and its institutional arm on Earth, her church. Again: a lot of the enjoyment for me came from gaining insight into a very different point of view than my own, so I found her discussion, positive and negative, of everything to be deeply interesting and enlightening.

Not far into the book, another personal conflict arises, and that is Christmas' need to deal with a traumatic experience in her past. In some ways it seems like an odd intrusion, but she writes very honestly about being the victim of rape and how the experience affected her immediately and for the decades after her life -- and also how her spiritual journey helped her finally begin grappling with what was done to her. The summary I read online didn't mention this at all which is why I was so surprised when such a personal and traumatic experience came up. This book is way more mature, in terms of the issues and choices it faces, than its marketing suggests.

The weightiness of its central conflicts aside, And Then There Were Nuns is a truly enjoyable read. Christmas is a talented writer and her voice is wry and funny, full of observations that are funny and profound by turn. Her words are honest and genuine, and she has a strong sense of how to tell the story of her life. No surprise, as this isn't her first memoir, and she was a journalist for many years, too.

All in all, a moving and interesting read. I suspect I'm not done with it yet and will be returning to it soon. I suspect its appeal may be limited, but if anything I've written here appeals or intrigues, then I definitely suggest picking it up.

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