Blessed Are The Nones, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.
Summary: A memoir of a Christian woman coming to terms, with the help of some Catholic nuns, with her husband’s de-conversion.
I was eavesdropping, of all things, when my husband’s deconversion first hit me.
I was sitting on the floor of the guest bedroom in Josh’s childhood home in North Carolina, straining to make out the voices filtering through the hallway–the steady deep timbre of my father-in-law’s voice and the more volatile ups and downs of my husband’s as he explained that he no longer thought God was real.-Stina Kielsmeier-Cook, p. 1.
Imagine a young couple who met on a mission trip, growing in love, even as they share a deep vision for doing good in God’s word. Their shared faith and love leads them to marry and begin a family. And then one of them can no longer believe.
What would you do when the faith that brought you together is no longer shared? When your spouse would prefer a long run or a hike in the woods to going to church? How do you raise your children? How do you explain your spouse’s absence when you go to church? How do you sustain your own faith when the person closest to you can no longer believe? How do you keep a marriage together when you no longer share what you believe most important in life?
That is the situation Stina Kielsmeier-Cook faced when her husband stopped believing in God. He wished she had stopped believing as well. But she couldn’t, as much as she struggled with her own doubts. This memoir is her account of a journey that went from hoping and praying for Josh to return to faith to learning to live in an interfaith marriage “through which God can move.”
Providentially, she discovers a group of Salesian nuns in her neighborhood and begins to learn what it means to live a life with God without a husband to share it. At first she thinks the answer is “spiritual singleness,” a phrase that comes to her on a nature walk. Turns out the nuns aren’t too crazy about that. There is the pesky thing of vows, theirs and hers. Hers have nothing about “as long as you both shall believe.”
The memoir offers an account of a fifteen month period. As she prays with the sisters, she comes to the place of relinquishing her ideas of how things should work out with Josh, coming to a place of seeing her work as loving Josh. She proposes a “Nuns and Nones” group with the sisters, that takes off, though not with Josh, who prefers an informal group of interfaith couples who talk about their experiences over good food.
There are the moments of hope, where Josh joins Stina for communion at her church that practiced an open table. At one point, he acknowledges that he loves God, by which he means “The Mystery.” She talks about the pain Josh experiences when Josh’s father speaks with deep love about being saddened that Josh would not share eternity with him. She comes to a place where she leaves such questions to God. As she becomes a Visitation Companion with the sisters, she not only learns of new practices, but of women saints who also become companions on the journey.
This is a finely written memoir. It does not neatly tie off the loose ends of Josh’s deconversion. Josh still doesn’t believe. It’s honest about the differences, yet also moving in the embrace of love for the other both embrace. Josh goes on a picnic with the nuns, and Stina goes mushroom hunting with Josh’s grad school friends and takes the family to cheer him on his marathon race. One of the beautiful things about this book is how well Stina portrays Josh. I found myself at many points saying, “what a guy!” For those who find themselves in a similar situation, this is an honest yet hopeful book for how two people can continue to love each other even when they no longer share what they once thought the most important thing in life.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.