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Practicing Resurrection: A Memoir of Work, Doubt, Discernment, and Moments of Grace Hardcover – March 18, 2003


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Soul Shifts
There are pivotal moments in the lives of all seekers when we realize that we’ve been traveling on our path of growth toward happiness and ful­fillment, but, simply put, we want to go faster.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Gallagher's beloved older brother died of cancer, grief struck intensely: "I would be watering the garden or opening an envelope and Kit's death would spring on me completely new and jolting, as if I'd been hit hard from behind with no warning, and I then would fold up, like a fan." Her work at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, which she portrayed so passionately in her 1998 memoir, Things Seen and Unseen, now seemed hollow: "I felt an urgency to reclaim the holy in my life, to find a new way to spend myself." Beginning in 1995 where the earlier book left off, Gallagher describes the three-year process she went through to discern whether to become a priest. While involved in making this decision, she and other church leaders were also wrestling with questions that could split the parish: should their gay rector divulge his sexual orientation? Should he perform same-sex weddings? Meanwhile, Gallagher's husband was repeatedly expressing distaste for her heavy involvement at church. In spite of continued affirmation from church friends and diocesan officials, Gallagher began to wonder if her true calling was to writing, despite her persistent attraction to priesthood. Skillfully interweaving multiple themes, Gallagher maintains suspense right up to the epilogue, where various "resurrections" are revealed. With a poet's ear for language and a novelist's eye for essential detail, Gallagher offers a compelling story of her journey toward "a wholeness bought at the cost of suffering."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Gallagher's harrowing memoir of loss and hope recalls a time when everything seemed unreal and fragmented to her. She had learned her brother had little chance of recovering from cancer; she was working in a soup kitchen; she often prayed with great difficulty; and she planned liturgies for her church. The faith that allowed her to survive the scatteredness she felt came in ephemeral glimpses of truth that lightened up particularly dark situations. Through her inner and outer turmoil, she miraculously found a vocation to the ministry. Following it proved life-altering in the highest degree, disrupting her marriage, confusing family and friends, and even making her shake her head at times in ironic disbelief. In recounting her attempt to make sense of the life that was "given" her after her brother's passing, Practicing Resurrection reflects one woman's sincere desire to understand her place in the world, to find purpose and meaning after devastating loss. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (March 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375405941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375405945
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #912,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author



Nora Gallagher is an American writer of memoir, fiction and essays whose work, as one reviewer put it," is renewing the language of ultimate concerns." Her most recent book, Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic, is a memoir that explores her experience with a baffling affliction poised to take her sight. A map of illness, uncertainty, and faith that is both meditative and highly relatable for anyone who has experienced life-threatening illness or supported a loved one who has, Moonlight Sonata was published by Alfred A. Knopf on May 21, 2013.

Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic is part three of a quartet on modern faith as it is lived out. The quartet begins with Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith published by Knopf in 1998. Followed by Practicing Resurrection: A Memoir of Work, Doubt, Discernment, and Moments of Grace. Things Seen and Unseen was a bestseller and a finalist in the Spiritual category of the 1998 Books for a Better Life Awards. An excerpt was a finalist for Best Spiritual Essays.

Gallagher's novel Changing Light was well-reviewed in the New York Times and other publications. It was chosen by the Times as an Editor's Choice.

Gallagher learned writing on the ground in San Francisco as a stringer for TIME Magazine where she covered the Patricia Hearst trial, the Moscone and Milk assassinations, the Dan White trial and subsequent riots and the AIDs crisis. Later, she worked for Life Magazine and free-lanced, traveling to countries where she was interested in how people were living in the shadow of large events. She reported on families in Prague, just after the Velvet Revolution and the strange case of Jan Kavan, a dissident accused of collaboration. In Nicaragua during the Sandinista regime, she wrote about daily life, including a production of "Waiting for Lefty" at the National Theater.

Her essays, book reviews and journalism have appeared in many publications including The New York Times Magazine, DoubleTake, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Utne Reader, The Village Voice, Mother Jones, The Los Angeles Times and the Psychotherapy Networker.

Gallagher is a popular speaker having given talks at Yale University, UC-Berkeley, Stanford University, and Washington's National Cathedral.

Gallagher was invited to enter seminary to become an Episcopal priest but finally decided to remain a layperson. She is preacher-in-residence at Trinity Episcopal Church, Santa Barbara and has given sermons in faith communities nationwide, including St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, St. Paul's Cathedral San Diego and Stanford University's Memorial Church. She has lectured on writing and taught writing workshops at Yale Divinity School and the Festival of Homiletics as well as at other institutions with grants from the Louisville Institute.

Nora Gallagher has given readings at bookstores across the country including: Elliott Bay Books, Seattle; Bainbridge Island's Eagle Harbor and Book Passage, Corte Madera and appeared on panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

She was born in New Mexico, the daughter of Julie Walcott Gallagher, who taught herself architecture, and David Gallagher, who learned the law at Yale Law School and in practice. She was educated at St. John's College, where she studied the Great Books of the Western World.

She is the editor of the award-winning Notes from the Field, published by Chronicle Books, 1999. A sermon is collected in Sermons that Work and a poem in the anthology, September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond. Among her honors are a Penny-Missouri journalism award and fellowships at both the MacDowell Colony and Blue Mountain Center.

Her interests include the quest for meaning in our lives, how vulnerability connects us, the rights of patients, and breaking out of one's religious tradition while maintaining integrity.

She sits on the advisory board of the Yale Divinity School. She is represented by Philippa Brophy, president of Sterling Lord Literistic, New York.

She lives with her husband, the writer Vincent Stanley, in Santa Barbara, California.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 16 customer reviews
Whether that is good or not is an open question.
Paula D. Matuskey
Nora Gallagher tells a wonderful story about the everyday as well as the "big" events of life.
Carole S
This book was very well written, so it was easy to read.
Sally D. Brown

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Scoop on June 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I really loved this book.
I liked the pace of it, perhaps because it reminded me of my own exploration of faith. There are those moments of introspection and insight and then, well, life goes on. Gallagher shows that those moments of insight can add up to something significant, particularly if they are interpreted through a deliberate process - her exercise in discernment. The moments she describes are all distinct -- racing on the freeway to church, folding altar cloths, walking in the hills above Santa Barbara -- but they start to add up, to build momentum, early in the book.
I liked the simplicity of her writing. Her portrayals of people and emotions are restrained, but that may be why they are illuminating. I don't know what some of the characters look like, but I do know that I'd like to share a meal with them. I also appreciated her honesty - she reveals her own overly-harsh judgments, and finds ways to expose her own doubts without wallowing in them.
It's a religious book, or a book about religion, I suppose. That's obvious from the title and virtually every page. But my first thoughts about it when putting it down had little to do with religion, or even spirituality. What we see in this book is an individual on a journey to find the work for which she is best suited. It's a mystery, an uncommon mystery.
It's an interesting story, and very well written. It's a book I'll read again down the road.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Carole S on July 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Nora Gallagher tells a wonderful story about the everyday as well as the "big" events of life. Through a year of searching for answers and asking the needed questions, she goes beyond the usual metaphors to look at how to deal with the death of her brother, how to reconnect to her husband and most significantly, how to make an decision about which road to take next in her life. Readers - don't be put off by the religious words and subtext of this powerful book! It is not a book about going to church, but rather about the value of people, prayer, introspection, respect and bravery in all our lives. Relish its beautiful language and poetic flow. It is well worth your time to live in the world created by Ms. Gallagher!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Bullitt-Jonas on June 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
At the beginning of Practicing Resurrection, Gallagher is at a crossroads, sorting out how to live after her brother's death and wondering whether she is being called to ordination. She is haunted by the sense that, despite her busyness, her life is drained of meaning. She feels trapped in a small world, as if she's just going through the motions and painting by the numbers. What is the larger, wilder, and more vivid life that keeps calling to her from her dreams? And where is the door?
As Gallagher makes clear, resurrection is not about dead bodies coming out of the grave. It is God's energy of renewal and rebirth, a compelling and sometimes dangerous vitality that calls us to live larger lives - to give ourselves more generously and to love without holding back.
Written with the keen eye of a journalist and the open heart of a poet, this marvelous new memoir is a treasure.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Paula D. Matuskey on May 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book aptly shows how some who feel called to ordination are confronted with the differences between ordained and lay ministry and thereby challenged to make a deliberate choice, one way or the other. As churches move toward greater empowerment of laypersons, some who may have sought ministry as vocation instead may stay outside the borders of the institutional church hierarchy. Whether that is good or not is an open question. Gallagher tapped into my own yearning to be an ordained Episcopal priest by showing the inherent tension in the church's ministry discernment process that, instead of leading a person to ordination, may in fact instill in that person the desire to work through the increasing role of the laiety. A very good read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Leaf on June 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Practicing Resurrection confirms what Gallagher's first book, Things Seen and Unseen, demonstrates-the holiness of candor and the well-crafted word. By inviting readers to join her on a journey of deepening faith and vocational discernment, Gallagher provides us the opportunity to experience how each of us ministers and is ministered to. Her graceful prose, her expansive heart, and her exploration of our fragile and tenacious humanness make it easier to practice resurrection. This is a transformative book-sacramental in its ability to incarnate both the doubt and the grace requisite for faith.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. L. Glover on April 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nora Gallagher's openness and intellectual acuity in Practicing Resurrection are a gift, and we follow her more than willingly on her journey of discernment. This is a book for everyone who wants to live an examined life, regardless of their religious persuasion or belief. We laugh, we cry, and all along we keep turning the pages because she is also a terrific story teller.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on January 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
In this sequel to her bestseller Things Seen and Unseen (1998), Nora Gallagher continues to explore what a life of Christian faith marked by authenticity and integrity might look like in our contemporary world. She compares her journey of faith to the swimming lessons she took as a child: "The life of faith [is] amorphous, ephemeral, a glimpse, a moment. Trusting it [is] like my early swimming lessons learning to float." In particular, her brother Kit's diagnosis of bladder cancer, a prognosis for a "zero percent" chance of recovery, the horrors of surgery and chemotherapy, and eventual death all forced her to ask life-altering questions about God's call upon her own life.

The themes of vocation and call loom large in Practicing Resurrection. Through her many involvements at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, Gallagher began to wonder what might God have for her. To what could she devote her passion and considerable skills? Where did her joy and gladness intersect with the world's needs, as Buechner once put it? Sensing a possible call to the priesthood, her church formed a "discernment committee" of four saints. They met once a month for three hours across the year, plying Gallagher with questions, telling their own stories about vocation, reading the Scriptures, praying, and, perhaps most important of all, "honoring listening." What voices should she listen to? Which ones should she tune out? What about her husband's deep ambivalence? Was the priesthood any more sacred than her identity as a writer that she had nurtured for over thirty years? After negotiating the labyrinth of the Episcopal bureaucracy and its application process, Gallagher was "exiled" to a very different parish with a very different priest for a year as a ministry-study student.
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