A review of Sally Read’s Night’s Bright Darkness: A Modern Conversion Story

by Father Luke Meyer

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“Her hunger to be known is met by the God whose attention is entirely fixed upon her as compassion and humility come together as one.” –Father Luke Meyer

Unconventional may be the best description of Sally Read’s conversion story, but that is what also makes it so interesting, surprising, and delightful. Confidently embracing a post-modern lifestyle divorced from any religious tradition, Read seeks to find meaning in writing verse about her experiences as a psychiatric nurse in London, attempting to offer redemption to human experience that is often forgotten. Outside of work, she begins to sense the cold emptiness of evenings laced with too much wine and distant amorous encounters.

Settling into marriage with a Roman carabinieri, a member of Italy’s national police force, her aversion to anything Catholic is on full display. Life, however, begins to change. The usual pared down and visceral poetry she had been accustomed to write is challenged by her new experience of motherhood.

Her sights are set on writing a book encompassing all things feminine. In seeking to interview a broad base of women from diverse backgrounds, her curiosity is sparked by a small group of American Catholic women in Rome, who are part of the only families she can find with children to serve as playmates for her daughter Flo. Read’s journalistic inquiries into these Catholic families were met by an immovable refusal to respond to her probing questions, and she was providentially led to a Ukrainian monk from Canada.

Her ongoing encounters with Catholic mothers over playdates and what became regular coffee with Father Gregory, the monk studying in Rome, provided an environment of open conversation that allowed God to work in the unique way needed for this particular soul. It was not a logical argument that first pierced her heart, but a restlessness in her heart fueled by a desire to discover a presence in life both real and sincere. These new and strange Catholic acquaintances, as she saw them, did not so much try to convert her as they gave her space to speak and provided a listening ear to discover the meaning behind the new stirrings within her soul.

One notable theme of reflection threaded through this conversion story that struck me surrounds the desire of the heart to be fully known. Contemporary life is too often marked by loneliness and distraction, paradoxically even more so in the city bustling with life and technology. Assuming that what is most real is experienced in what we can measure, sense, and touch, the modern world leaves the author with many encounters in which she is seen, but hardly known. Her hunger to be known is met by God, whose attention is entirely fixed upon her as compassion and humility come together as one.

Read’s story is not laid out in a tight chronological sequence but through chapters with thematic headings as she comes to experience the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the Church, Mary, and her own call. I suppose this is fitting for a poet, as each page is saturated with vivid language and metaphor, attempting to articulate with words a rich and deep experience of grace, which intervenes with such precision, wisdom, and love amidst her sincere seeking. I hope you find her beautifully told story a source of encouragement and delight.

Fr. Luke Meyer is Pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center at the campus of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.