I gave my spiel about how the book discussions would be structured, the basic gist of the story and explained how we would be reading/discussing it from the perspective of a “spiritual journey”. I asked what they thought a spiritual journey was and we talked about what that meant for a while. As the books were getting passed around and ladies were signing them out, she leaned over to me and said, “Can I ask you a personal question?” I said something like “sure, I may not answer it though!” Then she clarified it was a personal question about her and she wanted to ask me after the session was over, in private. I said of course and was super curious (and slightly nervous) as to what she wanted to ask. Later, as the women were leaving she said “So I’m Catholic and I mentioned that I’m a widow. My husband committed suicide like 15 years ago. When it happened I was told by two different priests—old guys—that he would go to hell. Do you think he’s in hell?” I said, without hesitation and with confidence, “No, I don’t believe for a second that he’s in Hell.” She then added “I mean he was really, really sick and shouldn’t that make a difference?” I said something about believing that God is a god of mercy and forgiveness. I said something about how the Church and the God that I associate myself with wouldn’t condemn him to Hell. I could see the relief in her eyes, which were glassy with tears. I got the sense that she had not let tears flow in a very long time. I threw in a disclaimer that “I’m not a sister yet, but I would guarantee that sisters in my congregation would agree with me.” She thanked me in a way that was somewhat apologetic for asking in the first place. She came to one more session before someone posted bail for her. She returned her book with one of the other ladies and it tucked a note in it that said,
“Thank you for talking with me. It helped lay to rest some unanswered questions and feelings. Good luck with your journey—you’re gonna be GREAT.“
I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to work with these women this year. The ministry is way outside of my realm of experience and leading book discussion groups is something utterly new to me. I find it challenging and deeply meaningful in a way I couldn’t have anticipated, I love it.