PW: Practicing Resurrection has a really long subtitle: A Memoir of Work, Doubt, Discernment, and Moments of Grace. In a word, what's the book about?
Nora Gallagher: Discernment. It's the story of a woman at a crossroads, discerning what to do and how to live after her brother's death. A death forces us to look at our lives. Examining a possible call to priesthood and my vocation as a writer, as well as exploring the natural world for profound meaning—all were related to Kit's death. And, as Bill McKibben and Annie Dillard have pointed out, it's also a love story. One of the things I was discerning was the state of my marriage. It's an honest—even grueling—description of what Vincent and I went through.
PW: You write that in the midst of your decision-making, you felt "called" to priesthood. Did you hear a voice?
NG: No. It would have been much easier if I had. I felt a sort of odd tugging, and a longing and a singing joy when I was near the Eucharist table. I discovered I loved preaching. I think "call" is not about something weird or hearing voices, although there are people who say they have heard them. I think it's more about a long, slow recovery of whispers and glimpses, early desires, a discovery of the place, as Frederick Buechner said, where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need. It's a growing attentiveness to things of a different order that I think are always present, but not always heard.
PW: What can a priest do that a layperson can't?
NG: Very few things, as it turns out. But in the church we've translated that into a hierarchy where laypersons are often treated as children and priests as "fathers." One of the points of my book is a call to reexamine these roles, and these relationships, in order to revitalize the church.
PW: You use the word "resurrection" often. What do you mean by this?
NG: Discernment is always about finding new life. Let me back up a bit: Just after someone has died, many people have the experience that the person is alive, somewhere. We've made this into "woo-woo" or a "belief." But what if, like the resurrection appearances of Jesus, this sense that someone is alive is about seeing a broader, deeper—eternal, if you will—life, briefly and intensely visible? If there is some kind of life after death, what if it's not a life exclusively for the dead? What if it's a life available to us all, something the living can participate in, too? If we have a sense of this larger, newer, eternal life going on around us while we're still alive, it changes us. It makes us braver.
PW: Your earlier memoir, Things Seen and Unseen, is also about your involvement with Trinity Episcopal Church. Is your new book Volume 2?
NG: It takes place in the next three years after Things Seen ended, so it continues the story of that book. But it takes a new direction—people have said it's more personal—and it stands on its own.
PW: Are you writing another memoir about Trinity?
NG: Not yet. I'm writing a novel about a woman living in New Mexico in the spring of 1945. (I grew up in New Mexico, but the story is set before I was born.) I might add that this character finds herself visiting the small churches and sanctuarios in the north of the state and gradually asks herself questions about deep reality.