After speaking at our conference last year, Leslie Jamison recommended a book that she had read in one sitting: Jamie Quatro’s Fire Sermon. Aptly named, this inferno of a novel is about desire, transgression, self-loathing and acceptance; I, too, read it quickly (not in one sitting, but quickly!). The protagonist, Maggie, is a writer wrestling through complex feelings about God and morality, guilt and passion. It’s the rare novel that effectively fuses a spiritual pursuit with plot. Halfway through, Maggie composes the following letter to James, a poet with whom she has an affair; after meeting him in New York, she has this vision, which she describes as “vivid, insistent”:

I was on the plane at LaGuardia, the day after I saw you in New York. […] I closed my eyes and pressed my face into the window and, against the darkness of my eyelids, saw the city divested of all its buildings but three: Freedom Tower at the bottom, Empire State in the middle, and at the top, somewhere in the Bronx, an enormous crucifix, as tall as the island was long. Had the cross been a human, the Freedom Tower would have reached to its knees. While I watched, the cross lay itself down over Manhattan. Just bent forward and fell. The horizontal beam became a pair of arms and wrapped the island up, as if the cross were hugging a pillow to its chest. Manhattan curled in on itself. This much love. I don’t want to say I heard the words, but I felt them, a bass note throughout my body. All the mess and glory of this city, and still this much. And you, with your wayward thoughts, in the agony of temptation: I would have you no other way. Yet how to reconcile the other visions of the evil behind our situation — judgment, requisite obedience to an impossible standard — how do I balance these with this glimpse of unconditional love and infinite mercy? Who would make up such a contradictory religion? If there is such a thing as Divine truth surely it would come to us transposed in this way, revealing the inadequacy of our brains to comprehend (we must hold A and not-A to be true simultaneously), and in so revealing our intellectual limitations, prove itself “true” beyond such binary categories as “true” or “false.”