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A fast take on ‘Arriving at Amen’ with Leah Libresco


Ave Maria Press

Elizabeth Scalia - published on 03/05/17

How a former atheist learned to make space for God in prayer
Leah Libresco, a former atheist who is now a popular and sought-after Catholic writer and speaker, responded to a selection of questions about her book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers that Even I Can Offer, published by Ave Maria Press.
1) What inspired the book?

When I converted to Catholicism from atheism, I had to learn how to pray and to make space for God. And I was a total beginner! Someone who converts to Catholicism from a different faith already has some sort of relationship with God and a habit of making time for Him, but I had nothing.

I wound up reaching for secular sources of beauty and wonder, to help me understand worship by analogy. In other words, I wound up better understanding Confession by thinking about Japanese pottery repair, and stealing prayers from Shakespeare’s character’s complaints.

2) If you could give this book another title, what would it be?
“Faith as a Foreign Language”
3) Did writing this book teach you anything?
I read a lot of advice for writers (I’d never written anything this long before) and one of the best pieces of advice came from a novelist. When you have a plot, you have some parts of the book that have to happen (for there to be a rescue mission, someone has to get captured) but that you might find boring.
So the advice was, don’t write the boring parts first. Skip around in the book and write everything you feel interested in writing, and leave the boring parts till last.

And then, never write the boring parts! Rejigger the plot if you have to, but never sit down to write something you don’t feel excited about. I followed that rule and it made it a lot more fun to write (and, hopefully, to read).

4) If there is one person you want to reach with this book, who would that be?

I have a number of atheist friends, including some I met through my work teaching statistics at the Center for Applied Rationality, who I’d love to read this book. People sometimes stereotype religious people as unanalytical or too touchy-feely, and I think my book is way farther out on the nerdy spectrum than they expect Catholics to be. I’d also hope that some of my enthusiasms (for Cartesian coordinates and computer programming) will make it feel like they’re finally reading a book on spirituality that’s in their native tongue.
5) What is the ideal beverage to have in hand while reading your book?
Coffee (in a to-go cup). I’m a fast talker in real life (and the book has my voice) so it’s probably best to be slightly caffeinated and ready to move.

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