Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters
LOVE & SALT requires a bit of an introduction. Two young grad students in a creative writing class quietly confess their common interest: they sometimes write about God. Jessica is a Catholic, raised in New Orleans. Amy is a seeker who never has had a particular religious affiliation. One evening, browsing in a bookstore --- this was 10 years ago when such a pastime was possible --- they buy and read together a “pocket edition of the Old Testament Book of Ruth.” Struck by the relationship of Ruth and Naomi, “we received a vision of friendship, a way of walking with each other toward God. But we could never have imagined the path we were starting down together.”
"In amateur hands, the spiritual tone might have seemed like navel gazing, but not so in this thoroughly engaging volume. May it stay in print for decades."
It seems that within the next “several months,” both women got married and settled into real jobs --- Amy in Chicago and Jess in South Bend, Indiana (Notre Dame). Amy was preparing for her Easter reception into the Catholic Church, with Jess as her sponsor. They agreed that they would write and mail daily letters during Lent. “What began as a Lenten discipline soon became a habit, and we continued to write for years.
“We wrote to preserve and make sense of our daily lives…. [W]e wrote because it was the only way we knew how to pray.”
As a writer and an editor, I know how tricky this kind of book would be to put together, especially in its early pages, where daily postmarked letters cross in the mail. Two letters written on the same day aren’t necessarily correlating in theme. But the writing is so personal and crisp that it works. The first letters --- about a hundred pages --- are full of new faith and anticipation. A year later, less frequent letters express doubts, griefs and fears. As she carries and births a daughter, Jess deals with ongoing grief over her mother’s death years earlier. And career questions. Will her husband’s academic aspirations --- college interview after interview --- land him a teaching post? As for Amy, she suffers the heart-rending loss of a stillborn girl, but later, towards the end of the book, hopes are fulfilled with the birth of a healthy boy.
On one level, the book is very Catholic. Protestant readers not familiar with Catholic practices or parlance may puzzle at observances or phrases, such as a rosary decade, a Glory Be (a noun), and the reverence and meaning of contemplation/adoration of the Host. But the questions raised in the unfolding journey of two and a half years seems universal to women of any age or circumstance who have such a keen awareness of God --- whom Amy and Jess bring into the conversation of nearly every letter. In the final entries, Amy’s spiritual experience at the funeral of her daughter is exquisitely relayed. In amateur hands, the spiritual tone might have seemed like navel gazing, but not so in this thoroughly engaging volume. May it stay in print for decades.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on May 25, 2014