I don’t kneel by my bed and pray. I don’t invoke God’s name in thanks or anger.
My children were baptised in the Catholic church, but have received no further sacraments.
Yet my new novel is set in an evangelical megachurch. And my CBS drama pilot is about an ex-priest.
Faith fascinates me—and not just in a clinical, academic way. What does it feel like to believe? Why is religious belief universal? How do you get to a place in your heart where you can stand with thousands of others and raise your arms in rapturous prayer?
As a journalist, I’ve written about many things, some of import, many decidedly not. I’ve written about plastic surgery in Asia and ranchers fighting oilers in Wyoming and the American trend toward upscale laundry rooms.
But after two decades of chasing news and trends, I longed to write about the Big Things. Like love. Death. Faith.
My first book, Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death, explored weird and wonderful funerals and burials. Though I reported on cremains turned to diamonds and mummifications, it was for me a way to understand how we as a culture are changing the way we memorialize our loved ones. Doing so helped me through the subsequent illness and death of my parents.
My second book, Pastors’ Wives, is a page-turning novel about the lives of three women inside a Southern evangelical megachurch. But for me, it was also a way to work through my crisis of faith. The loss of my parents and the birth of my daughters spun me into an existential spin cycle. My beloved characters—Ruthie, Candace and Ginger—helped me through.
Though I have moved away from religion, I learned I still have faith: in my people, in my world, in love. Writing about faith taught me so.
Lisa Cullen was a foreign correspondent and staff writer for Time magazine, covering social trends, news, arts and business in the U.S. and Asia. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters.