by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & A Dynamic God & r & by Nancy Mairs & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's not easy being Catholic these days. It's especially not easy to be Catholic and a woman, a feminist and an independent thinker. But Nancy Mairs is all these things. In this book of 10 essays -- her eighth book and the second to tackle issues of faith -- Mairs re-examines the aspects of Catholicism that attracted her (she was raised a Congregationalist in Massachusetts) and that keep her actively engaged.

Fifteen years ago, Mairs first wrote about her faith journey in Ordinary Time, the book she calls her spiritual autobiography. In this book, she becomes more of an observer -- albeit an often acid-tongued one -- because of the progression of her multiple sclerosis, but she writes clearly and beautifully about the tenet of Catholic belief that undergirds her faith: incarnation, the idea "that we bear God into the world, in all God's complexity, and so God is always with(in) us."

This sense leads Mairs to undertake as many of Catholicism's corporal works of mercy as she can handle. She describes herself as a "radical pacifist," part of a group called the Women in Black (not all women, and not limited in wardrobe choice) who sit on a Tucson street corner to witness for peace. She and her husband George volunteer in a soup kitchen and periodically visit a condemned prisoner on death row in the Arizona prison system. And she worships as part of a group called the Community of Christ of the Desert, a group of former activists in the Sanctuary movement who love Catholic beliefs and forms of worship but decry what they see as the rigidity and growing irrelevance of the official Church hierarchy.

Despite being "not especially sanguine about humanity's prospects," Mairs is refreshingly candid, and her message is one of persevering amid the Big Questions. "If large numbers of perfectly ordinary people began to take care of each other and the creation in which we are all embedded," she writes, "a lot of people who trade in human misery would lose their access to wealth and supremacy." And that's a message that resonates among people of good will, regardless of religion.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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