A Matter of Faith




In the Good News Department: I have joined a writers’ group.

In the Bad News Department: I have writer’s block.

You, my Devoted (?) Blog Readers, have a stake in this. The intent of the group is to improve our writing skills.  If I succeed, you will be the beneficiaries! So bear with me here.

The six of us (all women, fyi) met in an essay and memoir class we took this fall. We are going to keep meeting on our own to critique each other’s essays; all of us writing on the same subject or “prompt”.

Perhaps because it is the December holiday season it was easy, at our group meeting last week, to pick our first “prompt”.  You can probably guess what it is – “Faith.”

Immediately this subject prompted (no pun intended) some anxiety in me.

What is Faith anyway? And am I wrong to feel reluctant about sharing my feelings on Faith with a group of women I like a great deal but who I am just getting to know?

Some of us in our new group celebrate Christmas, some Hanukkah.  I know this because in class we read our essays aloud. Often these were about our childhoods, and what is childhood without holiday memories?  One wrote a lovely essay about making a family recipe for gingerbread and another shared a poignant story about a Dad’s struggle with a Christmas tree.

It is fun to write about holidays and their traditions. I am eagerly anticipating the start of Hanukkah as I write this. Not so much for the presents (I’ve given out my hints; you know who you are) but for the traditions, the music, the food, our family gathering together around the holiday lights.

Faith isn’t as much fun to write about as the holidays. Nor is Faith a subject we often discuss with each other.

At least not among my group of close friends. I know my friends’ thoughts on personal subjects as they know mine; one has had breast cancer and fears a reoccurrence, another worries about her daughter’s stability and a third knows her marriage is on shaky grounds. But how they feel about their personal Faith? That I don’t know. We don’t exactly discuss that subject over coffee or at book club or while taking a walk. Heck, I don’t even know how my own sister feels about her (our) Faith.

Perhaps we don’t like to talk about our Faith because it leads to conflict?

This summer at a casual dinner with friends we got into a discussion about what my husband and I believe versus what my friend and her husband believe on a specific matter of our shared faith. By mid-meal our relaxed conversation had escalated into a heated debate. And this was with two of our oldest and dearest of friends!  While we had cooled down by the time we had dessert and coffee, the feelings still rankled. And as my husband and I got into our car to go home that night, we agreed that it had been a mistake to even delve into this subject; that we would file it away in the basket of “not to be discussed again” topics.

Talking about Faith also gets you into trouble on the global stage.

If you read and watch the international news (the “breaking, breaking” kind) as much as I do, no doubt you are also concerned about the growing divide between those of us who have the certainty of absolute faith and those of us who are questioners. (I am somewhere in between!) And we have all seen quite enough headlines recently featuring individuals and groups who hurt or kill each other using their faith as pretext.

It was so much easier to share holiday stories with my writing group friends.

The chicken-hearted way out (for no one would ever give me a prize for bravery; the cowardly lion who proved otherwise I am not) would be to write a light-hearted essay about Faith, about how I’d rather sail along on the superficial sea of religious thought than dive too deeply into the subject. Maybe I will write about my Bat Mitzvah partner from eons ago whose first name, and this is true, happened to be “Faith”. I could weave in the religious angle that way, (also noting, with regret, that ours was the only the Bat Mitzvah party of its era to feature a folk singer playing a guitar (our mothers’ idea, not ours), instead of a popular d.j.)

Then earlier this week I received an email from one of the women in my writing group. She wondered if I, known to be someone who writes quickly, had already completed our first  writing assignment.

I told her that no, I was struggling with the topic.  She quickly emailed me back saying that she too was having problems getting started with her essay and asked me if I thought we should suggest to the others that we change our chosen “prompt”.

That tempted me for a moment, it really did. But I wrote back to her and suggested we stick with it.

Our writing class teacher told us that we should write about what challenges us – and Faith falls right into that category.

I’m off to take the leap of faith to do just that.


















Filed under Family, Female Friends, Holidays, Women, Writing

11 responses to “A Matter of Faith

  1. Nancy– such a good point that holidays are easier to write about than faith. They’re entirely different topics, really. Interrelated but certainly not the same. Meanwhile, yeah, probably bad to discuss with friends, even old ones. I made the mistake (after a few cocktails, but still) of making my opinion about serving shrimp at a bar mitzvah known. (I bet you can guess my opinion on it, which is, there are 365 days in a year and maybe on the one day that it’s a child’s bar mitzvah, the parents can keep shrimp off the menu. Eat it the other 364 if you want.) I still think I’m right, BUT, it was a silly thing to get in a debate about. I was in the wrong to be so strong about my feelings out loud, in public, with friends, while generally not sober. I still regret it to this day.

    Maybe I should write about this. Though my friend forgave me and maybe I don’t want to remind her!


    • Ugh, shrimp at a Bar Mitzvah? I’m with you on that one. I would have spoken up as well!
      But maybe writing about it? I think you should!! Make sure your friend doesn’t see it, of course!



  2. denaepowers

    Victoria Zackheim, of the UCLA writers extension, just finished editing an entire anthology of personal essays on this very subject. It should prove to be very enlightening. For what it’s worth, I find that when I separate religion from faith, and faith from belief, my faith becomes easier to define. I think of it as my universal non-negotiables — those things that don’t change even as belief is refined and religion adapts to the times. Just a thought. Thanks for your entertaining blog.

    Typoed from my iPhone.



  3. mithraballesteros

    Tough prompt indeed. Very tough. I think I’d get esoteric and write a fable or something.


  4. Thank you for this candid essay, Nancy. For me, writing about faith is hard because it touches on personal beliefs, on “heart” more than “head.” I also believe that faith, by its very nature, can be neither argued with nor disproved. It’s what you believe. But people will argue about this most personal of topics. So we have to prepare ourselves for criticism that could feel personal. I recently wrote a blog post on “The Middle Stages” about my son’s atheism and had to steel myself to read some of the critical replies. Here’s the thing, though: I got a conversation going. And that’s at the heart of all good blogging — and courageous journalism. Back when I was a reporter, an editor told me that a negative response was better than no response. Hope that helps. I enjoy your work.


    • That is the place where I am stuck Amy, at the point where my heart says one thing and my head says another. I will take a look at your blog post about your son’s atheism. My kids both identify as Jews, as we do, but do they believe in G-d? I have no clue. I’ve never asked!
      thanks, Nancy


  5. Pam Kelley

    I enjoyed your post as usual! First and foremost, good luck with that assignment! I recently participated in a discussion on St. Teresa of Avila and her autobiography. She was quite a formidable woman–I love her stories and can even relate to some of them (from the non-saintly perspective of course!). I mention this because sometimes the lives and stories of others help us explore our own faith journey. Scriptural figures from various traditions can also be a nice catalyst. It sounds like you just need to find a way into the subject and you’ll be more-than-fine. Keep it simple, too. Cheers!!


  6. Gail Kent

    I just discovered your blog … I swear, I think we’re related. We’re the same age, live in the same general part of the country (I’m in Virginia), both trying to write after having had other careers (mine in PR), don’t have BFFs but do have many CFFs, have kids that are difficult to “kvell” about … so far, the only thing I’ve found out about you that is different from me is that you’re Jewish and I’m not. I just signed up to get your blog delivered! Love it!


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