By Chris Bavender
What do you get when you cross an author who writes memoirs and devotionals and one who writes paranormal fiction and travel essays? The subtitle of their new book says it all: “How Two Homesick Pilgrims Stumbled Back into the Catholic Church.”
“Strange Journey,” co-authored by Jonathan (Ryan) Weyer, a former Presbyterian minister, and Jessica Mesman Griffith, who has a masters of fine arts degree in creative writing, will be released Nov. 1 by Loyola Press. A book launch party featuring a short reading from the book, panel discussion and book signing is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at Saint Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church in Zionsville, where Weyer is the pastoral associate of evangelization.
“Basically, we want to recover the mysterious and uncanny nature of Catholicism. Too many times, people in the church try to make it an easy-to-follow formula, a rule book, ‘Do this, don’t do that and follow these steps, and everything will be great,’” said Weyer, 43, who writes as Johnathan Ryan (his middle name). “As if 2,000 years of beauty, truth and strangeness can be distilled into a self-help book for harried people. Reality is much more complex, difficult, beautiful and heart-breaking.”
“Strange Journey” begins during Advent and progresses through the liturgical year. It covers feast days, celebrations of the saints and other observances, with personal stories describing how the authors have been drawn deeper into the church in pursuit of the mystery of faith.
Because of the book’s structure, the authors didn’t sit down to write the book together or take turns writing chapters.
“We mapped out the story we wanted to tell in advance, according to our favorite Catholic holy days, and then we each wrote our parts separately,” Griffith, 40, said. “When we put them together in the final draft, we were surprised and happy to see how well the puzzle pieces fit.”
Because the co-authors have such different styles, Weyer doesn’t believe they could have written the book any other way.
“We both played different parts of the song and they just fit, which is pretty much how Sick Pilgrim works,” said Weyer, a Zionsville resident. “Jessica is a beautiful, artistic writer, and I tend to be more of a storyteller.”
It’s not the first time the two have worked together. They co-founded the spiritual blog “Sick Pilgrim,” winner of the 2017 Wilber Award for Best Faith-based blog, and the “Wonder Podcast.”
“’Sick Pilgrim’ is more than just our blog. It’s become a spiritual community for artists and seekers to support and inspire each other on the journey,” said Griffith, who lives in New Palestine. “That’s really important to me, to give artists and other people who often feel they don’t fit in a way to be in the church, to keep the faith.”
“We were floored to discover so many others who loved the things we loved. So many people are hungry for magic, for enchantment, for a place to revel in the joy and weirdness of faith without the pressure to be perfect,” Weyer said. “It was like opening a hospital door for all the spiritually wounded to come in and rest.”
But for those expecting “Strange Journey” to be a book about rebellion, they may be surprised to find it focuses more on renewal.
“The church can often get seduced by power, money and control instead of truth, beauty and love,” Weyer said. “And, as a faithful son of the church, I wanted to tell people my story with the hope they would see the mystery of faith is far more attractive than a half-baked program that will quickly become obsolete.”
What message do Weyer and Griffith want readers take away from “Strange Journey”?
“All of our spiritual journeys are strange and take many twisted turns. We’re both Catholic because it is strange, it is unsettling and it does take a lifetime to learn, to grow, to heal and become whole,” Weyer said. “Our journeys aren’t over. It’s a process of opening doors only to discover a room full of more doors. That can be frustrating. It can also be comforting. We aren’t expected to get it right all the time. God is mercy.”
The book is available for pre-order on Amazon for $16.95 or at the Nov. 2 event.
“Strange Journey” is the first book co-written by Jessica Mesman Griffith and Jonathan Ryan, but both of have written several on their own.
By Jessica Mesman Griffith
- “Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship in Letters”
- “A Book of Grace-Filled Days”
- “Daily Inspiration for Women: Seasons of a Woman’s Life”
- “Godspy, Faith at the Edge: A New Generation of Catholic Writers on Life, Love, Sex and Other Mysteries”
- “Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writing from Rising Generations”
By Jonathan Ryan
- “3 Gates of the Dead”
- “Dark Bride”