Night’s Bright Darkness by Sally Read, Ignatius Press, £14.50

The story of a person’s conversion is often inspiring, and the poet Sally Read’s account of her own dramatic change of heart and mind is no exception. A staunch atheist, feminist and believer in euthanasia and abortion, the author, who trained as a psychiatric nurse, related that after her father’s death when she was 26, she admitted to herself: “This is hell. I’m in hell.”

It took some time, a longing to write “one true poem”, research for a book on women’s sexual health and many conversations with an exiled Ukrainian priest whom she met in Italy, before the author had a life-changing experience in 2010 which made her desperate to become a Catholic. “After a lifetime of lacking Christ in the Eucharist, I could barely wait another day,” she writes. This was a huge, grace-filled volte-face for someone as prejudiced against the Church as Read admits she was.

In particular, her talks with Fr Gregory Hrynkiw grew out of her curiosity “to know how someone intelligent, someone moral, could belong to such a Church”. Eventually, one night, paralysed in her attempts to write, “The fact of God penetrated me like the fact of my own existence.” Read joins a long and venerable tradition in this experience.

All the obstacles to belief, such as the Church’s “misogyny”, fell away. “Why should I baulk now at a structure – historical, literary, biological and supernatural – that was the ultimate poem?” One senses that Read’s own understanding of poetry found its true bearings within the Church, as she realises it possessed “the mystics, the poets, the doctors of the Church, the saints, the art, the Mass … It was a universe of formal beauty.”

The day of her actual entry into the Church during a Roman winter, on a day when the city had been partly closed down because of terrorist threats, and the occasion of her first Confession are related with a mixture of humour and deep seriousness. What Read grasped (and many cradle or cultural Catholics do not) is that “without the encounter with Christ and the love that this inspires, no true conversion is possible.”

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