Minna Proctor’s exquisite first book combines personal narrative with philosophical and historical inquiries into the nature of spiritual calling. Proctor’s father, divorced from her family and now a distant relation of sorts, calls his 30-year-old daughter, seemingly out of the blue, to tell her that he wants to become an Episcopalian priest. Having grown up with virtually no religious presence in her life, the author initially has trouble comprehending her father’s desire. As she reacquaints herself with him, the thread of spirituality in his life becomes clearer to her. When the church cuts short his discernment process, or application to the priesthood, because he can’t fully articulate his calling, he is deeply disappointed.
Enter Proctor, who daringly pursues the underpinnings of her father’s calling and the church’s decision. By interviewing priests, religious scholars, and her father, Proctor gives the reader a fascinating insight into the workings of the Episcopalian church and how it evaluates its candidates for priesthood. While a standardized list of 45 steps exists, each diocese administers its own set of examinations. Articulation is only a part of the process. Candidates meet with various committees to discuss their calling and spiritual biographies; Proctor’s father’s process was stopped after two and a half committee meetings, an unusually early point to be turned away.
Undeterred by puzzling church methodology, Proctor presses forward with examinations of classic religious and secular texts on faith, from Thomas à Kempis to James Joyce to Henri J. M. Nouwen. Her research opens questions about the contemporary church as well as religion’s impact on culture. Changes in morality and science over the past 100 years have shaped religion’s role not only in Proctor’s family, but also in society as a whole. Her father’s spiritual journey becomes a journey of her own, one in which she looks closely at her Jewish roots and the idea of Jewish secularism. Ultimately, Proctor questions the importance of an establishment validating or dismissing an individual’s calling. She notes that those who feel a calling to God can exercise it by making room for humanity in the everyday, where it is perhaps needed most. Religions worldwide uphold this kind of calling as truly sacred work.
Victoria Ludwin is a writer living in Brooklyn.
Do You Hear What I Hear? was published by Viking in February.