Nancy Mairs has long been a heroic literary figure for this reader. Now in her 60s, she lives with her husband, George, in Tucson, Arizona; they have three children. A Dynamic God is Mairs’ ninth book. The volume is comprised of essays in which Mairs explains her conversion to Catholicism, why the faith is important to her, and the principles upon which she lives her life.
Two of the reasons Mairs remains heroic are for her outstanding courage and her brilliant mind. Mairs was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1972; readers have come to know how the condition has affected her and her family. First a wheelchair, then diapers, then a voice-activated computer; now unable to hold onto a book. Mairs depends totally on the Internet to do her research now, she who taught literature and loves books so much. She can still brush her teeth, and she still cares about what clothes she wears each day. She is politically active, visiting people in nursing homes and those on death row. She and George are members of a small, independent Catholic group, which at one time called as its church the Mairs’ home.
Although I am, as is the author’s daughter, Anne, a secular person, I share much of Nancy Mairs’ worldview and an interest in and curiosity about almost everything. In a press release, Mairs expresses fear that some people will view this as an overtly religious book. Well, yes, it is, frankly, but on another level it is rather more spiritual, a credo of what living a “good” moral life is to this woman and her religious community. Although this reader prefers the content of some of Mairs’ earlier books (such as
Ordinary Time and Voice Lessons), in which she discusses honestly and somewhat self-deprecatingly her disability, her husband’s bouts with cancer and his infidelity, among other issues, this book continues to shed light on this woman’s ethics and kindness. Mairs calls her life “joyous.” She is not trying to proselytize; she is sharing a hard-won vision of a life she continues to enjoy. She is getting used to basking in “being” rather than “doing,” but the “doing” she continues to do – writing, visiting shut-ins and prisoners, attending peace vigils – is important work, work she will probably never stop entirely.
A Dynamic God does not demonstrate fully to a secular, skeptical reader how a liberal, feminist woman can so embrace the Catholic religion (she expends only one sentence on the current scandal regarding priests, enough to shake many’s faith), but it goes some distance in doing so. Mairs loves most of her chosen religion’s tenets and practices and overlooks (or downright contradicts) other aspects. Mairs calls herself a “Zen Catholic,” or “an alternative Catholic.”
She is, as always, refreshingly honest and often funny. “I don’t believe in divine intervention. I believe in miracles, but only as random inexplicable events. I know that God doesn’t hand out treats in return for my good behavior, just as I feed biscuits to my Labrador retriever when he sits on command; nor does God chastise me for my sins. I am not the object of the Almighty’s operant conditioning.”
The book’s greatest value lies in her delineation of a good, un-self-centered life – in explaining what many Americans (of all faiths) probably feel but cannot so finely express on the page. She believes in love, not in hate or war, for example. She believes in reconciliation, not retaliation, and that we should not judge or correct others but work on out own morality and life.
The author is not entirely optimistic about the future of the country or of the planet
- “… our technological capabilities have now so far outstripped our moral development that it seems likely that we really will (and sooner rather than later) blow ourselves up with nuclear devices or suffocate ourselves with petrol fumes or poison ourselves with chemical waste or drown ourselves in melted ice…”
- but she still believes that we must all do something, that each small act counts. “I’m damned if I’m going to let my behavior be shaped by warmongers and death-dealers. As long as I resist them, I bear witness to another way of being in the world.
Considering her physical status and her history of depression, Nancy Mairs does a whole lot more, in terms of living her vision of life, than many of us. Recommendation? Read this book and then go back and read all her others.