On the way to Rome today
The luminous darkness of the night
by Sally Read (Ignatius Press, Â£ 14.99 / â¬ 18)
It’s hard to resist a good conversion story. They have a ready-made narrative to tap into, usually filled with twists and turns, and the ending is happy. When bright talent is combined with an already pleasing narrative form, it is doomed to entry.
This is exactly the case with The luminous darkness of the night, the autobiographical account of English poet Sally Read’s conversion from militant atheism to Catholicism. Its story resonates deeply with our time and reminds us that, despite the confusion of modern life, a path can still be found “through the night to reach it”.
Coming from an atheistic education in England in the 1970s, Ms Read refused to believe in God, even though she wished he existed, and was determined to accept the consequences of his absence. But with a lively turn of phrase, Ms Read describes the alienation of her twenties, working in London as a nurse for the physically and mentally ill.
His sharp artistic temperament and his desire to seek the truth made the restless and muscular English capital not for him. But it wasn’t then that she turned to the Faith, instead engaging in her poetry – she was honored in 2001 with the Eric Gregory Prize for Poets Under 30.
What then brought her to the faith? Surprisingly, the catalyst was a book she was researching about female sexuality. This book led her to seek advice from a Catholic priest in March 2010. She could not resist, upon contact, asking this man questions about the Faith and its justification for believing in it. Aggressive at first, it was this first contact that led her, nine months later, to enter the Catholic Church.
His conversion, however, could not have happened without his commitment to the search for the truth. Ms. Read is endowed with a contemplative state of mind, as is often the case with poets. From the moment of writing, she was already used to clearing her mind in order to be receptive, indeed to a higher power.
But when she came to pray, she understood that she had to open herself completely to God, to let him enter her being. His father had always taught him to kneel before any false God. But she felt compelled to kneel before the one true God. She recognized it in prayer as the truth she longed for in her poetry.
In the book, she writes that the truth suddenly broke off, and she recognized God as a poet: âIt was to commune with God, who already knows, who has the metaphor, the poem, already in hand, who already writes, has already written, the ultimate poem.
Ms Read found her poetry flourishing after her conversion, now that she knew its true source. This blossoming is to our advantage, because if Night’s Bright Darkness is a work in prose, it is written with a fluidity closer to poetry. A short, concise 157-page book, this is the genre that deserves a slow read; and yet that was all I could do to keep from finishing it in a few hours.
It seems appropriate to end with the poet’s own words, reflecting on the final effect of his conversion: âA self has returned to me more completely than before. The heart began to feel its intrinsic architecture of logic, love and reason. I hope his writings will have this effect on you, as they did with me, in starting my appreciation of the love we are so blessed with.