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Her search for love gave her faith

SPIRITUAL LIFEHer search for love gave her faithTrish Ryan's memoir recounts her parallel odysseys in search of the right spirituality and right man.Trish Ryan's memoir recounts her parallel odysseys in search of the right spirituality and right man. (DONALD E. MARTELLI)By Rich BarlowAugust 30, 2008

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A lonely young woman, burned in love by a string of losers, finally lands her Mr. Big: It's the theme of this summer's Cinder-yuppie fairy tale "Sex and the City." It's also the story arc of Belmont writer Trish Ryan's new memoir. Only her Big is God, who leads her to a husband and true love. There she gradually sorts out her life by finding faith in Jesus and the man she eventually marries.

"He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" (Faith Words) recounts Ryan's parallel odysseys in search of the right spirituality and the right man. Raised Catholic, Ryan, 39, sampled New Age religion, astrology, and other practices while suffering heartbreak after heartbreak: Her college engagement ruptures when her fiance sleeps with another woman; she flees a first marriage to a volcanic-tempered, insult-hurling creep. She also describes humorous dating duds before discovering The Vineyard, an evangelical Christian church in Cambridge. There she gradually sorts out her life by finding faith in Jesus.

Excerpts from a recent interview follow.

Q. How long have you and Steve been married?

A. We celebrated our fourth anniversary in June. It was a pretty whirlwind courtship. We started dating in November, we were engaged in April, and we got married in June.

Q. You write about your disdain for fundamentalist Christians like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Is that why you're happy at The Vineyard, which some have called evangelical-light?

A. What appeals to me about The Vineyard is it's almost like this ongoing invitation [with the message] that God is doing great things in our lives, but sometimes we need people who have been active longer to help us figure out what that means. There's less of a sense of people telling you "you have to do this or you're a bad person." There's faith in Jesus to sort out what parts of our lives we should pursue.

Q. When you write about your baptismal confession that Jesus is "the only path to God," you aren't saying that only Christians go to heaven?

A. No. Following Jesus has given me spiritual benefits I haven't found anyplace else. But [Christianity has] an image that we've gotten from Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell. When I visit places where that is the culture, I feel like I did when I visited Paris. I speak the language to some degree, but I'm not a native.

Q. Readers will laugh with you at your travels to the goofier extremes of New Age religion. But what about Judaism or Hinduism or other major faiths that have centuries of moral practice and thinking behind them?

A. I had very little exposure to those. I was raised in Maine, so there wasn't much diversity. In college, I took a world religions course, and the professor made us watch these awful videos about sacrificing cows in India. In my 18-year-old mind, I thought, that will never be the faith for me.

I thought Judaism might be a viable option until I dated a guy whose family was very involved - his father left his law practice to study the Torah. But his mom was horrified he was dating a girl named Trish Clark. She described me as "looking like a map of Ireland."

Q. Having been rejected because you were at least a nominal Christian, do you feel empathy for those folks [of] whom the hard-core Christians say, "You're all going to hell unless you find Jesus"?

A. Sure. That was my first experience with someone disliking me without ever knowing me.

Q. What about non-believers?

A. I think God's pretty big. Most of us, including atheists - there's usually some degree of exploration. Any time we're exploring, God's at work in that.

Q. I know some Christians who found their soul mate in a non-Christian. Do you?

A. Oh, sure. [But] I like the advice I got early on [at The Vineyard]: It is easier if you date Christians because they approach life the same way you do. This was a revelation to me. I thought I was supposed to date whoever came along and wasn't an ax murderer. My standards were pretty low.

Q. I thought your book could have been titled "Sex and the City and Faith."

A. I was one of those girls. I would rent the "Sex and the City" videos because I didn't have any girlfriends. Until I straightened out my relationship with God and realized I can chase God and ask Him to fill in these pieces of my life, it really was about, "Maybe what stands between me and total happiness is that right pair of jeans."

One of the things that troubled me was this idea that Big was a good catch. Big was terrible. I would love to say to all women: Let's raise our standards.

Comments, questions and story ideas may be sent to spiritual@globe.com.

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