Some great quotes from an interview by Barbara Demarco-Barrett with author Mary Karr:

“[My young son] came flouncing in in his Power Ranger pyjamas and said “I wanna go to church.” I said “Why?” and he said, “To see if God’s there.” It was about the only sentence he could have said that would have gotten me to go. So we did this thing we called God-a-rama in which we went to various temples and mosques and zendos. I had no interest in going to church so I brought a latté and a paperback.

I was praying at the time. I was sober and the only way I seemed to be able to get sober was to pray. But I was praying to some kind of vague, I don’t know, what native Americans would call the Great Spirit but what Catholics would call the Holy Spirit; a force for good in the universe would be about all I could call it. So I was still a long way from conversion.”

“[At university] I went to every other church but the Catholic church due to its stance on choice for women, the fact that women can’t be priests… I guess I thought of it in very medieval terms. I thought of it solely in terms of the hierarchy and probably the Spanish inquisition! I had figured I would go for some free-wheeling, breezy hippy deal or something.

We went to a Midrash, a conservative temple, a zendo—which really wasn’t the place for an eight year old. But we ended up at the Catholic church. I don’t know what happened. I just stopped bringing a paperback. A couple of the Protestant churches I had gone to were so vague. It was kind of like, you know, “Today’s gospel is from Glamor magazine… It was like little hopeful things you might find in the Reader’s Digest, and I thought, well, there’s not much God here. And the episcopal church, which had women priests and so forth… the fact that they didn’t believe in evil, theologically… in a way that was more horrifying for me than the Spanish Inquisition! How can you not believe in evil? I knew I believed in evil long before I believed in any force for good.”

“What I loved about the Catholic church was the carnality. First off, the fact that there is an actual body on the cross. It’s so… meaty? You realise what a hunk of meat you are from the minute you walk in. And also (and I know this sounds incredibly nuts) but the way you kneel and stand up and pray. Everyone moves and says the same words the same way, you pray with other people in concert, breathing the prayers and saying them together. A lot of “cradle Catholics” complain about that stuff—you’re a sheep in a herd—but for me it was strangely comforting. Just going through the motions to be polite, kneeling and standing up—even with my cup of coffee and paperback—I realised, “My body bends the way these people’s bodies bend. I’m not so different than they are.” I found that when you read a poem that someone wrote a long time ago that you are breathing the way that person breathed. You are taking their words into your body. I guess it was a eucharistic quality even then that I was attracted to.

Also, it wasn’t the ritual. It was the faith of the people. When they would ask people to state their prayer intentions… I was very moved by people bringing their suffering and their hope together into this public place. I guess I really did think that when you spoke those things together, that it was something sacred.

Again, it was still very vague. I didn’t have much to do with Jesus at the beginning. When I stopped bringing the paperback and visited the peace and social justice committee, I noticed that the people who brought people over from El Salvador and did the prison ministry and ran the soup kitchen all talked about Jesus a lot. They were really into Jesus, and I thought, gosh, these are really nice people. They’re trying to get cribs for these people who don’t even speak English and trying to help them find jobs. They’re running an HIV hospice and bringing meals to people who are gay for God’s sake! I saw a lot of the lay tradition among the poor… which is not peculiar to Catholics, but I guess I just saw it first hand up close.”

You can hear the entire interview at the Pen on Fire podcast.

No, I’m not heading for Rome, ever. I have just found that Catholics often have a much healthier sense of the poetic “earthiness” of truth. Cerebral Protestants might understand sola fide better, but they don’t do mercy ministry like Rome does. There is much good in Rome despite its twisted doctrines and errant traditions that we must recover for Protestantism, or whatever this becomes. Much of it has been ditched by Protestantism since the Reformation, so I guess that is really what we should be drawing on. But who is living it out, in the flesh? This razor-humoured, delightful lady, who has been through some very tough times, experienced a miraculous work of God through some very godly people.



Before my first communion, I clung to doubt
as Satan spider-like stalked
the orb of dark surrounding Eden

for a wormhole into paradise.
God had formed me from gel in my mother’s womb,
injected by my dad’s smart shoot.

They swapped sighs until
I came, smaller than a bite of burger.
Quietly, I grew till my lungs were done

then the Lord sailed a soul
like a lit arrow to inhabit me.
Maybe that piercing

made me howl at birth,
or the masked creatures whose scalpel
cut a lightning bolt to free me.

I was hoisted by the heels and swatted, fed
and hauled around. Time-lapse photos show
my fingers grow past crayon outlines,

my feet come to fill spike heels.
Eventually, I lurched out
to kiss the wrong mouths, get stewed,

and sulk around. Christ always stood
to one side with a glass of water.
I swatted the sap away.

When my thirst got great enough to ask,
a clear stream welled up inside,
some jade wave buoyed me forward,

and I found myself upright
in the instant, with a garden
inside my own ribs aflourish.

There, the arbor leafs.
The vines push out plump grapes.
You are loved, someone said. Take that

and eat it.

Source: Poetry (January 2004).

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4 Responses to “Disgraceland”

  • george Says:

    Anne Rice has a similar story to tell in her book Called Out of Darkness. I e-mailed her about it one time and mentioned something along the lines of what you were saying about how there is a tangible difference between Catholic and Protestant cultures. My remarks were more along the lines of their respective contributions to Art, but I think there is probably a connection.

  • Mike Bull Says:


    Yes – our greatest strength is usually the flipside of our greatest weakness. The “earthiness” of Catholicism can lead to superstition. The Protestant rejection of such leads to what Jordan describes as a kind of gnosticism, a faith disconnected from “physical” history.

  • George Crocker Says:

    Mike I agree that we Protestants have practiced a more gnostic faith but I don’t see it as happening right after the Reformation (the seed may have been there among some) but most likely happened at the turn of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. John W. Montgomery thinks that it was the reaction of the fundamentalists to the “postmil” (not real postmils) social gospel at the beginning of the 20th century. As a result the Gospel became individualistic rather than culture changing and the discipling of all nations. He may be right. Anyway it is high-time we got back to the whole Gospel = Word and Deed ministry. IMO

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Well said, George. Thanks.