One None Gets Some

Looking at life through the lens of faith

The dot!

In a blog post a few entries back I discussed the imagery of the circles on the cover of A None’s Story. Each color represents one of the faith traditions I explored, and the shading variations within each circle speak to the unique way individuals may understand or practice their beliefs.

You may recall that I made a special request to the publisher that somewhere on the yet-to-be finished back cover at least one circle show a splash of all the colors. I felt such a Technicolor dot could be the rough equivalent to my thinking as I emerged from this journey, for I had come to hold in high regard aspects of each of the religions I explored. I was going forward with the intention of incorporating facets from each into my everyday life.

I am happy to announce that my book jacket has been printed with one such colorful dot and that finding it was about as exciting as zeroing in on a well-hidden Easter egg back when I was oblivious to the message dyed eggs and candy placed throughout a park conveyed of hope and new beginnings (though perhaps feeling it on some instinctual level).

Just as I hadn’t realized the importance of a multi-colored circle until I didn’t see one on the early version of the cover design, I’m starting to understand how hopeful I am that my book sparks multi-faith dialogue, and not only among people like me with no religious affiliation (though I’m happily anticipating that). As I move further along on this path, I am increasingly interested in inter-faith exchange.

Which is why I am thrilled (and terrified) that the Interfaith Amigos have agreed to join me at my book event in Seattle. For those who haven’t heard of these Amigos, they are a Jewish rabbi, Muslim imam, and Christian minister who have joined forces to give talks and make presentations together. They have their own website. They’ve even given a TED talk and, in 2009, the New York Times wrote a story about them.

It is a bit surreal and perhaps a little hilarious that soon I will be sharing a panel with them participating in a discussion about faith (or the lack thereof). I have no idea what to expect—what, if anything, I might add to the conversation or if I will simply smile mutely as I wonder how on earth I landed among them.

Will this be the first of many interfaith discussions I might have the honor of joining…or a total train wreck? Can I really have a meaningful conversation with three religious leaders? If so, what will that look like?

All three of the Amigos will be reading my book shortly so there’s still time for them to back out!

Until then, here is the information in case you or anyone you know would like to plan to attend:

May 22 at 2pm
University Bookstore (with Interfaith Amigos!)
4326 University Way NE
View Facebook Invite

He drew a circle that shut me out


The monastery

As some readers of the blog may remember, one of the first steps I took on the journey detailed here (and now in the book A None’s Story) was a week-long stay at a Benedictine monastery. I was inspired by the example of Kathleen Norris, a poet and essayist, who beautifully recalls the periods in her life that she lived among Benedictine monks. She writes about this and other subjects in The Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.

I decided to copy Norris. Preferring my destination to be within a day’s drive of my house, I went online and searched “Benedictine Monastery Washington State.” This little “spiritual vacation” wasn’t meant to be the beginning of anything; it was supposed to be the entire journey. I imagined it as a divine car wash: in one end I would go with the jangled nerves and disconnectedness of modern life; out the other I would appear with the serene smile and beaming aura of the Virgin Mary. What were the events that I thought would transpire in between? I had no idea. But I was pretty sure angels would sing.

This did not happen.

I stayed for a week in the guest house of the monastery along with a ragtag group of other visitors. I did hardy chores (this monastery was also a farm and the “monks” were all nuns), dutifully took a contemplative walk every afternoon, and sat in the little chapel twice a day as the nuns sing-songed their prayers. I returned home with a sense that religion may offer something substantial, enough to sustain these women on this remote farm, but I had not grasped what it was.

As is often the case, failure was a launching pad.

The truth was, by duplicating Norris I had hoped to bypass the hard work of a spiritual journey that would be authentic to me. It was dawning on me how much effort it would take to chart my own path. I thought my lack of religious inheritance meant I could adopt anyone’s I wanted. What I couldn’t see at the time was that, as a None, I had my own inheritance, as complicated as any other. The way to understand Norris better wasn’t to reproduce her actions, but approximate her intentions.

blessing and curse



Publishers Weekly

A None’s Tour of America’s Faith Traditions: PW Talks to Corinna Nicolaou

Like her fellow nones, Corinna Nicolaou claims no religious affiliation— a growing trend among Americans. To find out what she might be missing, the writer whose work has appeared in Salon, The Washington Post, and more began attending services of major faith traditions around the country. Her experiences are featured in A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam (Columbia University Press, April 5).

What motivated you to write the book?

I grew up in a very secular household, and I was just personally really curious about religion. I didn’t know where to start, and I was…(follow the link to read the full interview).


The countdown begins

_He who knows one knows none._As the countdown begins to the April 5th release of A None’s Story, I want to share some tidbits that inspired me along the way.

I ran across this quote on the first pages of an old academic book on Christianity I found in the college library. This was in the early days of my quest. I had no idea who the man who said it was, but the synchronicity of his words with my project made me do a double take. The sentiment (exploring religions) was similar to my intention, but it was his use of the words “one” and “none” in close proximity that made what I was doing feel like a reply to his long-ago statement–an echo a century in the making.

Intrigued, I found out more about him.

Max Müller (1823 – 1900) was a German-born scholar credited with popularizing the study of comparative religion in the West. A practicing Christian, he studied the ancient language of Sanskrit to read and translate ancient Vedic texts, which are believed to be the earliest known religious documents. His research led to explorations of Hinduism and other world religions past and present and eventually to an Oxford teaching post where he taught comparative “philology.”

His official resume is impressive, but what I have found most encouraging about Mr. Müller’s example is just a side note: he was thoroughly criticized for his efforts. Some called his unwillingness to disavow other belief systems besides Christianity anti-Christian; not only did he not disavow them, he went on teach their fundamentals to the best of his ability. Others hated him for the opposite reason: their faiths were being manhandled by this ham-fisted outsider.

It’s safe to say Müller regularly received a thorough pummeling from all sides. And it is this small detail, all these years later, in which I find the most comfort. Because I’m sure some of those lashings had to sting—I can only imagine he thought what he was doing was positive, that he believed his efforts might contribute to a greater understanding among people and it had to be painful to get a solid smack down at every turn. But he picked himself up and carried on. He stepped on toes and no doubt made a buffoon of himself from time to time, but the internal spark that drove him to do what he did, captured in that simple quote, spoke to me at the start of this project and speaks to me still.