A 60ish father’s surprising desire to become an Episcopal priest catalyzes this thoughtful debut, an exploration of what constitutes a religious “calling” and what role faith plays in life.
Magazine editor Proctor’s father, a music theory professor, was raised a Catholic and spent a year in seminary before marrying her mother, who is Jewish. The couple divorced when Proctor was a teenager, and she considers herself to be a secular Jew—an unacceptable definition, she learned, after consulting an eminent Jewish scholar who sternly declared, “Jews believe in God.” The author was astonished when her father, remarried and living in Ohio with his new family, told her that he wanted to be an Episcopalian priest. Then, while she was still adjusting to this news, he called to say that his application had been remanded. According to the “Vocations Committee,” a group composed of a priest and two parishioners in good standing that employs a process called “discernment” to determine whether the applicant has a genuine calling and is able to express it convincingly, he needed to “work on the articulation of his calling.” Already intrigued by her father’s intentions and his regrets about his past behavior, Proctor decided to investigate what exactly an acceptable “calling” is, how the discernment process works, and the history of both the priesthood and ordination. Studying such noted religious writers as Karen Armstrong, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, she also talked to male and female clerics, nuns, monks and a range of Jewish scholars. The closing pages here show her father still uncertain how to proceed, but Proctor has eloquently distilled all she learned about religion and faith. Though her father stands center-stage, he and her family’s past play secondary roles to her sensitive examination of profound ideas with universal relevance.
Intelligent and intellectually provocative, though also respectful: a notable example of fine writing on religion.