birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


In the early 1990s I decided I wanted to become a Catholic, but the decision wasn’t completely trepidation-free. After many Evangelical years of believing Catholics were Mary-and-Saint-worshipping superstitious weirdos who didn’t believe they could ask for basic forgiveness of Jesus without a priest as a middle-man, I still had a lot of questions about Catholic doctrine and whether it meshed with basic Jesus-centric Christianity.

I had two benefits during my one-year Rite of Catholic Initiation process. The first was that I was coming into the Roman Catholic Church through Saint Monica parish. Saint Monica is a huge, gorgeous, traditional-architecture sanctuary with many ministries. I sang in the rockin’ “young adult mass” choir during the weekly Sunday-evening service which attracted hundreds of folks in their 20s and 30s.

Pre L.A.-earthquake and the subsequent renovation, the choir risers used to be almost parallel with the altar, and as a soprano, I stood on the end closest to the action. We stood in place during the consecration,when the priest’s prayers call down transubstantiation and the wine and the hosts mystically become Christ’s body and blood. From liturgical, holy, aesthetic and dramatic perspectives, that’s the high point of the Mass, and I had a ringside position every Sunday. I was dazzled by the beauty of the gold chalices and “paten” plates for the hosts, and the pomp of the priests elevating the various elements and praying over them as the congregation looks on and prays. I was filled with a yearning hunger for the elements of communion that I could not in good conscience receive until I was confirmed into the Church. I think the Easter I was confirmed was made that much sweeter by all those hours next to the altar.

My other bonus during my the conversion process was the amazing Renaissance man and monk, Father Luke, at my beloved Saint Andrew’s Abbey. Luke had already been my spiritual director for about 2 years—indeed, I see my magical, seemingly random discovery of the monastery and the guidance and inspiration of that place and its’ monks teaching as an intrinsic part of God’s plan to draw me into the Catholic Church. In addition to his facets of computer genius, mastery of 5-ish languages, being a harp master, teacher extraordinaire and specialist in J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, he too was a convert to Catholicism from the Protestant Church.

I’d thought I was somewhat rare, but I learned there were many converts. Luke’s particular gift was helping me to understand the true doctrine of the Church. This was a time before the new version of the Catechism, or many “accessible” publications on what the Church believed. Saint Monica’s doctrine from the RCIA nuns and priests was spot-on, but let’s just say some of the lay-volunteers got weirdly creative in their concept of doctrine. All I had to do was wait for my next monthly appointment and ask Luke a million questions. “Really? That’s what they told you?” He’d sigh, roll his eyes, and then explain the true doctrine.

Pearl's Confession

Coming Clean