Read: Grace Notes

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Article Reviews
By Brian Doyle (ACTA Publications, 2011)

Brian Doyle must have been listening intently when poet Mary Oliver proclaimed, “Attentiveness is the beginning of all prayer.” In this collection of 37 essays, Doyle, whom readers will recognize as a frequent contributor to this magazine, dives into the odd and ordinary moments of daily life, plumbing their spiritual depths. “I lucked into work that has everything to do with listening and hearing stories and catching stories,” Doyle writes. “[A]t age 50 I conclude that I was born and made for stories.”

Doyle’s first piece, about a tense moment between father and son, begins, “Committed a sin yesterday, in the hallway, at noon.” The searing honesty of that line has stayed with me since I first read it, years ago, in Portland Magazine, which Doyle edits. The book goes on to visit “sons, shrines, silence, marriage, homework,” and a host of other stops on this wild ride. The author’s wit, his humility, and the joy he takes in words shine through on every page.

In the foreword, Doyle lays out his commitment to American Catholicism, warts and all (personified, perhaps, by the warty Argentinian tree frog gracing the book’s cover). Despite our having been “seared with fury over rape, denial, and lies about rapists among us,” he also insists that “the genius of Catholicism is that Christ is us—inside each of us is the extraordinary key to the substance of things hoped for.”

Hence his tales of life turn on joy, grief, and most of all hope. “The saddest word I’ve heard wrapped around divorce like a tattered blanket is tired, as in we were just both tired, because tired seems so utterly normal to me,” he writes, “so much the rug always bunching in that one spot no matter what you do, the slightly worn dish rack, the flashlight in the pantry which has never had batteries and never will, that the thought of tired being both your daily bread and grounds for divorce gives me the willies.”

This article appeared in the April 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 4, pages 42-43.)