“Yeh, but we don’t go to church much….”

I happened to notice recently that PBS America (meaning PBS’s UK channel) will begin showing The Roosevelts on October 19. My Mom back in Pennsylvania had told me the other day that, having seen it, she had been most impressed by Theodore. I told her that made sense: he lived life at triple the speed of the rest of us.

Because it rather reflects my personal outlook, for years I’ve liked this list by that first President Roosevelt:

In 1917, in an interview with Ladies Home Journal, President Roosevelt offered at least 10 reasons for going to church….

I won’t reproduce them: you can click *here* to read them. As we know, religion has *always* been a sensitive, and divisive, subject. We all have our own “personal journeys” of course.

Like many of you who were/ are Roman Catholic, growing up I had been escorted through all the “Catholic requirements.” But by my older teens and 20s, and, again, like many of you, I was definitely not a churchgoer. Frankly, I did not even really believe in any god.

However, as I moved into my 30s, I began to see the value in churchgoing much along the lines Theodore Roosevelt (he hated to be called “Teddy”) outlined. Do I believe in God now? Hmm. Let’s just say I don’t see a reason any longer to question others’ faith: my view is “faith” simply is.

The top of St. Peter's, The Vatican. [Photo by me, 2013.]

The top of St. Peter’s, The Vatican. [Photo by me, 2013.]

In fiction, faith is regularly portrayed as synonymous with an intolerant fanaticism. Yet what I encounter in various churches week in and week out are ordinary people full of life questions and doubts, and who enjoy gathering with their neighbors much as Roosevelt notes. That is worth attempting to portray accurately in fiction too.

So as I organized my tale, I decided I would include religion. But my characters would be similarly ordinary people with their own intensely personal, and varied, views. I would not attempt to ignore faith or pretend it is not there.

Here, during his first chat with Isabelle, James explains “what he is” after she casually inquires, “If you are Irish and Italian, you are Catholic, no?”:

“Yeh, but we don’t go to church much. I don’t think a lot about it. Busy with life I guess,” he sought to explain.

That was, essentially, also myself at his age. We may also find ourselves surprised by how people think of faith. When James explains his doubts, and meekly asks Isa about her own Catholicism, she replies:

“Do you think to be Catholic you have no doubt? A birth to a virgin? It is preposterous. …. You just have to have faith.”

Naturally not everyone “has faith.” In a previous post, we’ve already seen Uncle Bill tell Isabelle he considers himself a Unitarian. Separately, he also points out:

“You have faith. I admire that. I just can’t summon it up. Never could. Giuliana didn’t understand either.”

Indeed in the hope of better understanding someone, we may seek to “pry.” We might do so especially if what a person “believes” has not been overtly evident. For instance, James cagily asks Valérie if she’s a churchgoer like her friend, and she replies:

“Not regularly,” she admitted, sipping her drink. “My mother does go now and then. I think we did go more when we were little in Beirut. I remember church more in Beirut. Not as much in France. Not like Isabelle.”

And we also often encounter those who don’t want to be bothered with any of it:

“James, if you had answer wrong, you would not be here,” Béatrice stressed. “I don’t think [Isabelle] will marry a man who is not Catholic. Do not be offended, but I think it is all stupid and false. But that is me.”

How individuals approach religion is simply another aspect of their humanity. As in our own lives, it may be presented among characters’ make-ups as complete individuals. It does not have to turn a book into a “religion debate.” It can just be part of “life.”

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are reading this. :-)

Sense Of Place

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from my wife’s friend in Bristol; her husband is writing a novel. He had a question for me about New York City. Specifically he wanted to know something about Brooklyn.

You remember him? I wrote about him a few months ago. He’s the guy who’ll probably get a film deal after selling like, urr, a gazillion books…. and I’ll sell, uh, quite a few less. ;-)

I was startled he had a question about anywhere in the U.S. I say that because he has managed, without ever having even once set a foot in the U.S., to write vividly about life, people and places in the country. Everything he knows about the U.S. he has picked up from books, TV, films…. and, uh, me.

Amazing how some manage that. But I find there is also nothing more satisfying and useful than having walked the ground in the places you are using – or even just think may use – as story background. Doing that imbues a tale with a much more rooted “sense of place.”

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

I was unsurprisingly pleased (to be honest, ecstatic is a better word) when one of my readers wrote me that she enjoyed my detailing a Paris neighborhood where she had lived. She said it brought back happy memories. That I had been there myself definitely made a difference: I don’t know if I would have been able to write about it quite as I had if I had never been there in person.

Yep, umm, just like our pal Ernest Hemingway. ;-)

St. Augustine, Florida

We’re making our way “back north.” We stopped in St. Augustine, Florida, en route. As we do when we travel, we went to church locally last night.

And this one was pretty impressive. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in North America:

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Brief history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Brief history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Keys

Happy Sunday from Marathon, in the Florida Keys. Got here at last yesterday evening:

The view from the rear of our rental house, near Marathon, taken around 6:30am today. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The view from the rear of our rental house, near Marathon, taken around 6:30am today. [Photo by me, 2014.]

And I could, uh, much too easily get far too used to this. ;-)

Whenever we travel (in America, Ireland, Italy, France, wherever), we always find a Catholic Church and attend services locally. Doing so gets you mixing a bit – even if only for a little while – with area residents in a “non-tourist” manner. Once, in France, we even found ourselves at a baptism.

So we went to church early this morning at the beautiful San Pablo. It is gorgeous. I have to get a couple of photographs of it before we leave.

And I’d never been in a church before in which, in the pew, was a prayer card that included a “Prayer for No Hurricanes.”