Linking with Jessica at Housewifespice!
Wow, I seem to be on an adult nonfiction kick lately! I’d been hoping to get to the YA novel of a fellow Simmons program graduate and offer my own take on Flora and Ulysses, but alas. Jennifer Fulwiler up and wrote a book and now she’s giving out prizes.
The title is taken from a C.S. Lewis quote: “All that we call human history…[is] the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God, which will make him happy.” This memoir is the long, incredible true story of a woman finding the God she didn’t know she already had. What makes this convert’s story more publishable than any other’s? It’s the honesty that sometimes finding faith isn’t as clear and immediate as getting knocked off your horse one day, but days and moments and snatches of time of small little knocks on the heart until one day you realize the knocking is coming within—but even then you’re not done until you believe that there’s someone behind that knock and you choose to open the door.
Spanning her life from her refusal of a Baptism at 11 years old to her being welcomed into full communion with the Catholic Church as a 30-something, Something Other Than God relates that series of stirrings and knocks Mrs. Fulwiler experienced. The anecdotes that she tells to reveal her conversion are so successful because they are incredibly prescient without big signs announcing “look how thematic this is.” Rather, they point to the knowledge and grace already held within herself and other people. They are not like the parables of the Gospels, but the stories of encounter—encountering a person. One of the biggest mental hurdles it seemed for Mrs. Fulwiler was that Jesus wasn’t a concept, but a person. In a way, like St. Paul, you could say, her conversion did come about. The story goes that Saint Paul was knocked off his horse by the voice of God, asking him why he was persecuting Him. But how could this be? He was persecuting people—Christians. And then the knowledge burst upon him: God lives within us. When you encounter a person, you encounter God. It was through these engaging encounters that Mrs. Fulwiler slowly encountered God until there wasn’t even a glass door separating her from Him.
The encounters that really resonate are the understated. Mrs. Fulwiler recalls a trying afternoon in which, exhausted from too little sleep, she yells at her mother, then retreats to bed and encounters a holy person, whose biography opens her to more to the true meaning of good and sacrifice. She humbly apologizes to her mother, who, not batting an eye, graciously accepts it and says nothing of the episode, revealing that this woman, not the printed-out life of a very good person, is a witness of who Jesus is as a person. Or the time she visits a cemetery with her family. Previously in the flow of the book, she’s just yelled about a pro-life pamphlet her husband had picked up after their first time attending a Mass. At the cemetery, she really
starts to look at the gravestones, finally noticing for the first time, after years of making this pilgrimage, how young the deceased are. Her ancestors had just lost four children in one year. You think she’s about to have her “Jesus, I’ve come” moment about abortion and the value of the life of children, but no. That will come later. Rather, she begins to grapple with the issue of suffering.
Reconciling suffering with a loving God is actually the biggest struggle as she tries to unlock and fling open that knocked upon door. In one conversation—just a snippet of dialogue with her husband, but a hugely important one at that—is the key tat will fit. Her husband is talking about suffering and being a path to joy, but all she can hear and think is that he’s talking about misery, the experience she’s been trying to avoid ever since she had her first confrontation with mortality at the age of 11. Jobs, money, house—having none of that will make her miserable. She wants to be happy. Her pro-choice views stemmed from the notion that if pregnancies made women miserable and contraception abortions could make them not—
they should be allowed. Her last battles are with a house and a photo. For a couple contentious years in her early marriage—even as she gets on the path to conversion—she clings to a house of dreams as what will make her supremely happy. The small photo is the biggest hurdle for her horse to jump—it captures her grandparents and her deceased uncle, a little boy who was killed in a gruesome car accident. Her grandmother had lost half her family in under 36 hours and faced losing her husband to a far-off war. At first, all that could be gleaned from such a photo was the misery likely endured, conflated with the real suffering. When Mrs. Fulwiler finally gets that key to fit, it can unlock the door to the God within because only this key—the one of suffering—is the one that perfectly aligns with all the other little mechanisms—the questions that barred entry.
I am going to close at the open. The experiences that sit with me the most are the deeply profound, but utterly normal musings of a girl. Mrs. Fulwiler’s father tells her to “question everything,” even what he says—which is what she does. And then she found God. And he also tells her that as an adult, she’ll be tempted to “believe anything that makes life seem easier”—which is what she did for the first twenty-some odd years of her life. And then she found God. Faith in our Lord wasn’t what either of them thought she’d find, but she still got what she wanted—true happiness. In another moment of her young life, she gets a knock when considering some fossils: “They were the dead things, and I was the alive thing, and that’s how it would be forever.” (19). The truth is written on our hearts, even if we do not know it is there. Christ is alive in our hearts and we can be with him forever, but first, we have hear the knocking within.