Jane Knuth writes a monthly column for The Good News, the newspaper of the [Catholic] Diocese of Kalamazoo, and co-writes a column for a local newspaper, (coincidentally named Good News) with her daughter Ellen. She and her husband, Dean, volunteer in local food distribution efforts. They live in Portage, Michigan.
In 2011, Jane’s first book, Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25 Cents at a Time, was awarded first place from the Catholic Press Association for Popular Presentation of the Catholic Faith. Thrift Store Graces, her second book was published in 2012. She and her daughter Ellen, released Love Will Steer Me True: A Mother and Daughter’s Conversations on Love, Life, and God from Loyola Press in November 2014.
Ellen Knuth returned to the USA after 5 years in Japan. Having already been an English teacher, a singer in a rock band, a dairy princess, a MC, a newspaper columnist, and a university relations manager for a study- abroad company, she now works as a head hunter for a multinational firm in the Detroit area. She travels extensively, writes occasionally, and sings constantly. Love Will Steer Me True is Ellen’s first book.
Although Jane and Ellen co-authored LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, the following interview is with Jane.
The back cover of LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE has this quote: “Did we teach our children to love God in order to keep them close to Him? If that’s the case, then it shouldn’t matter where they travel in the world.” Could you elaborate on that?
Raising children is different than raising adults. I always had in mind that I wanted my daughters to become adults and that meant that I needed to gradually teach them adult knowledge like laundry, driving, money management, etc, and most importantly: prayer. Knowing that God exists and that God is reachable is the biggest coping skill out there. My daughter Ellen believes in prayer and uses it extensively. God is everywhere and Ellen knows that, too. My worrying about Ellen being on the other side of the planet was a denial of what I had taught her. She was right to ask me not to worry.
From your point of view, why is there so much religious diversity in the world?
Religious diversity reflects the diversity in the rest of humanity. To me, this seems natural. I would be astounded if every culture and every individual understood God in the exact same terms and metaphors. Since persons are not God, we can only understand God in what is revealed to us personally or through traditions passed down. Certainly, this is good. In this way we can learn about God from each other’s experiences and traditions.
In your book you mention tradition and faith. What do you see as the difference? Are they equally valid?
The way I understand it is tradition is the spiritual knowledge and practice passed down from generation to generation. Faith is a gift from God to an individual. I can practice faith traditions like worship, prayer, and sacrifice, but I only have faith itself by receiving it. I cannot conjure it up on my own. “Are they equally valid?” Hmm…I would say they are both part of the journey. But faith can happen with no effort on our part, only acceptance, and any pure gift is valid. Tradition is about learning what others in a long line of believers have determined is true. That is certainly valid, too.
What have you learned from the faith relationship between you and your daughter Ellen?
I learned that I was not the only teacher of my daughter. I learned that God’s plan for her is something that I need to accept just the way it unfolds in her life. Ellen’s soul is not my soul, and her journey is not my journey. I am always trying to learn about faith, but Ellen is always living it. In Japan, Ellen found herself teaching the Ten Commandments to people who had never read a word of the Bible. They asked her to teach them. This has never happened to me in my entire life. It was not her intention to spread the Christian faith when she was there, but God used her to do that. When she left, one of her adult students told her that, before she met Ellen, she had never realized that prayer was possible. Ellen never prayed with this woman. She only prayed alone in the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Ellen has taught me so much about living the faith that I never would have learned anywhere else.
In one of the chapters of LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, you mention a conversation you had with your husband Dean about the difference between worry and prayer. In your opinion, what’s the difference?
Worry is trying to figure out the future and maneuver around it. Prayer is accepting the present and putting the future into God’s arms.
You mention having to answer the question “how do you share catechesis” in the classroom (as a middle school math instructor). In your book, you don’t provide the answer. I’m curious how would you answer that question?
It happened naturally many times. For example, I had the job of introducing the students to the concept of imaginary numbers (eg. the square root of -4). They were astounded that mathematicians would ever think about something that could only be labeled “imaginary.” Not only did mathematicians think about it, they developed theorems and proofs around it, and used the theorems to solve problems in the real world. This opened the students’ minds to the concept that different universes can occur simultaneously. And that naturally opened their minds to the spiritual universe that their religion teachers kept telling them about.
Do you have any practical advice to give in regards to being sensitive to other faith traditions?
LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE is partly the story of how Dean and I raised our daughters to respect different faith traditions. We never fight over religious doctrines. It would be useless for us to try to solve arguments that have been going on for generations. We prefer to live the life of love that is demonstrated by Jesus in the scriptures. Jesus seldom got into debates with the religious leaders of his day. They wanted to debate him, but he side-stepped their arguments and traps with parables and miracles. He didn’t even argue with the devil in the desert, except to quote some scripture. But that story shows us that the devil can quote scripture, too, so why let ourselves get pulled into the arguments?
In LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, the death of Rodger (Ellen’s friend who went to Japan with her) is a definite shock which faith, initially, doesn’t seem to heal. Of that experience you mention that God uses failures. Can you expand on that?
Rodger’s death brought to the forefront both Ellen and my fear of death; our own death, unexpected death, and a young death. Faith is all about facing death and learning to live, so this moment was necessarily a trip into the strength and weakness of our personal beliefs. It showed us how weak and defenseless we all are in this world. This was a good, necessary, and painful lesson. From our shaken-up faith, God lead us to see our vulnerability. I learned that I am fooling myself if I think I am not vulnerable to all the possible catastrophes in this world. Rodger was a good, good person. He died suddenly, far from home, with only a newish friend by his side. The tsunami taught the same truth on a much larger scale. Faith in God is not about escaping trials, it is about trusting that we are eternal souls and that eternity is good.
Can you describe your writing routine? (When do you write, where, what inspires you to write?)
Sure, but it’s not good advice! I write sporadically, smack up against deadlines, and only after distracting myself with dusting, doing the laundry, and making a cup of tea. To my credit, I actually enjoy the revision part. Getting the initial story down is like pulling teeth, but re-writing is kind of fun.
You also do quite a bit of public speaking. What’s that like? And do you prefer one (writing) over the other (public speaking)?
It surprised me how much I enjoy public speaking. On average, I am asked to speak to women’s groups two to three times a month. I also speak at book clubs, help-agencies, and libraries. The people I meet are kind, thoughtful, and diverse. It’s a great gig. I don’t prefer speaking to writing, but it is a lot less work!
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
My publisher, Loyola Press, asked me to try to write a book about family prayer. The idea is to find out how different families pray, whether they are Christian or another faith. This does not include corporate worship or personal meditation, but the more intimate joining in prayer of loved ones. Why does the publisher want this? Because they are hearing from readers that this will be helpful. I am intrigued by the idea and I’m collecting stories from everywhere. If any of your readers have a good story to tell about praying with their loved ones, I would love to hear it.
You can reach Jane Knuth via her Facebook page.