Author Gail Sheehy; Chronicler of those who found their way
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Because she's a writer and interviewer herself, there's one thing that bothers her about the coverage of her new book: ''The chapter on faith. Not one interviewer has mentioned it. People really don't know how to talk about that chapter or anybody in it. That's why it was so difficult to write about it.''Skip to next paragraph
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She outlines the part faith has played in the lives of significant ''Pathleaders'' like DeGaulle, Sadat, Golda Meier, Churchill, Emerson, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt. ''One after the other, there was some personal setback or tragedy or failure, major failure, and they'd go off for a period of withdrawal and personal examination. And they would really re-examine their faith at every level, in themselves and whatever source of spiritual guidance they felt, and their values, and the people that might have been part of their (political) party -- and then they'd come back in some way transfigured and give the benefit of that personal transformation to their social milieu. . . .
''And then these people pollinate others and then get a whole kind of critical mass of leadership that begins redefining the core values of the culture, and that is ultimately the spiritual awakening that gets the society off on a new period of optimism, social objectives, energy, hope, and so on.''
In that chapter there is only the smallest hint of her own path to faith as she begins describing a Midwestern Protestant whom she gives the pseudonym Elizabeth Bain Loeb. She says of Mrs. Loeb that she ''came circuitously to her adult faith, in much the same manner I had found my own way back.''
Sheehy found her way back, she remembers, when she and her husband were separating and she felt really lost. ''I felt I had slammed into a brick wall that had shattered all my assumptions about what was right to do . . . and what was meaningful for me. The family life was very meaningful for me. Also my ego was very bruised at that point because I was the rejected one, even though there was still a great deal of love there. And I had a very small child and couldn't imagine how to keep the responsibility of being parents going, although we did work that out and it became one of the emotional victories for all of us. But at that time I really didn't know the Bible and hadn't learned the stories. And I didn't have any parables at hand.''
It was when she was sent on assignment to St. Mark's Episcopal church on Easter Sunday that year that she found a renewal of her faith. It was during the Vietnam war, when the artists and writers who belonged to that Lower East Side church were demonstrating against the war, wearing yellow ribbons instead of Easter finery. ''I walked into this church, the first time I'd been in church in maybe four or five years, and had an overwhelming sense of a kind of homecoming. . . . I felt refreshed and felt we could do something together with these 'people who were searching through their own creative medium' for God.'' She later joined the church and felt ''very nourished by that spiritual home'' for about five years.
And then, she says, the neighborhood changed, her life changed, and she found herself in a new stage with a new path.
''Since then I've found different ways and places to tap that spiritual place of honesty and reality. There are different churches in different parts of the world. But sometimes I also love to climb hills and be there very early in the morning, when it's really quite pure. And I feel that then can be a church. . . .
''So I think that I'm not as concerned as I was after that specific place was no longer available. I moved to a different part of the city, history moved on, and I missed it terribly for a while. And now I'm not so concerned about finding a physical home or specific denomination to be the shelter for the faith. But I seem to be able to find it wherever it is.''