By: Jen Shoop
Do you ever feel that you are experiencing a moment that is drawing you impossibly close to the divine?

About a year ago, I had an old friend over for dinner, and we parted ways pledging to read the then-new Sally Rooney novel so that we could discuss it at our next rendezvous. A few weeks later, he wrote me a beautiful email in which he shared that he’d read some of my blog posts and had been consumed by my essay on the death of my friend Elizabeth. He said that my writing about her passing had bled into his reading of Rooney. Or, I posit, vice versa, as this is the alchemy of good novels: we find their shapes mysteriously reflected in our own lives. We fall in love with the brooding neighbor, because isn’t he Mr. Darcy? We find a soft spot for the neighbor, who suddenly favors Tova Sullivan. We wonder about the special places of our youths, because aren’t they Dutch Houses, too?

But my friend chiseled a finer point. He said that he’d been sitting at anticipatory Mass just after finishing a section of the Rooney book in which Eileen talks about “belonging” to womanhood, and then reading my piece on Elizabeth, in which I wrote: “She was not so worried about surviving; she was more worried about surviving and not having a child.” The Gospel that day, he told me, concluded with “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” My friend wrote at some length about the symmetry between these excerpts, straining to make out the trail between the breadcrumbs. He is, as you can probably tell, an exceptional reader. I could sense the galloping hermeneutics at work as I sat quietly at my small white desk, chasing after his thoughts on the screen, and then he concluded with:

“Then I realized the name of the church where I attended Mass: Saint Elizabeth’s in Rockville, MD. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of these fortuitous messages and my discovery of them in a 24-hour period. But I think the most appropriate way to interpret them is to say that fictional Eileen, the late Elizabeth, and Jen Shoop all “belong to the truth.””

To “belong to the truth” — what does this mean? I suspect some undeserved compliment was afoot but even if we set aside its legitimacy, there was something about the drawing together of Elizabeth, and anticipatory Mass, and Rooney, and my routine writings in search of clarity about all of these things — about the wild phenomena of living and loving — that took the wind out of me. For some reason, I read his words and remembered what my father said about the time my mother visited Mary’s house in Ephesus: she knelt down and cried. Do you ever feel that you are experiencing a moment that is drawing you impossibly close to the divine? That you are witnessing something beyond reason, beyond meaning? And that the only suitable response is to laugh, or cry, or otherwise lie recumbent to the moment?

I do not believe in spirits, or mediums, or ghosts, but my Catholic understanding of the way the dead live on sits just-adjacent. I have felt Elizabeth in my life — and I mean really felt her presence, a thing corporeal — countless times since her death. She blooms in the roses on the side of our house, and I hear her voice on the cobblestones of Georgetown. And there she was, on my screen, after calling out to an old friend of mine she might have only met once or twice when she was alive and shiny with the promise of youth.

I lack the spiritual, or exegetical, sophistication to investigate my involvement in my friend’s triptych in any meaningful way. And so I will simply write that I am grateful for these visitations. And I think the Biblical Elizabeth* — the one who heard Mary’s greeting at the door of her house and responded “with a loud cry” — would understand. Sometimes we hear our names, and the only thing we can do is call out with joy.


+Another musing on remembering those we’ve lost: “”Do I go looking for signs of the dead, or do they find me?”

+It is important to write about the people we love.

+Dear Dad, you were right.

*”In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”‘ (Lk 1:39-42).

**It is not lost on me that I attended Georgetown Visitation high school, founded by the order of the Visitation nuns, with my dear friend Elizabeth.

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Shopping Break.

+More Gap greatness: love this puffer vest (get in the tan or deep green!), this denim midi skirt, and this Celine-esque textured cardigan!

+Reformation is running an epic end of season sale and…summer’s not over YET! This striped beauty is in my cart for 50% off! Not on sale, but this dress is spectacularly chic.

+Elegant high-waisted denim trousers. LOVE the dark wash.

+Fall is my favorite time to sort out my desk, buy new office supplies, etc. I think we all need some new scissors, drawer organizers, and a chic task lamp.

+Le Monde Beryl vibes for less. (Compare with these.) Love the look with a moody fall floral dress.

+These textured storage baskets remain one of my favorite home purchases. Great structure, texture, shape!

+The textured cardigan I wore in this post is now available! I’ve had a number of questions about quality and fit. This is NOT a cotton sweater but I think the quality is quite good — it feels soft on, and looks beautiful. Honestly, I had not noticed the fabric content prior to the questions, and think it’s very similar in look and handfeel to the Gaspard cardigan. Re: fit. I took a petite petite and think it runs more snug / narrow than most Talbots items do, which I LIKE in the cardigan. It has a kind of shrunken fit. It does hit me at mid-thigh in the petite, though, so I would take that into consideration (e.g., definitely go with petite sizing if you’re on the shorter side so it’s not overlong).

+Can someone please buy this Goyard wallet on a chain so I don’t? TY.

+Random, but just ordered myself this rechargeable magnifying mirror for some upcoming travel. I have been at too many hotels where the lighting / mirror set-ups are sub-optimal. Especially NYC!

+This panther necklace is SO cool.

+This counter spray smells incredible. If Jo Malone did home cleaning products…

+Did you know Dudley Stephens makes kids fleeces?! This and this are so cute!

+This plaid barn jacket is SO good.

+This is my second-favorite scent in the world. (First is Byredo’s Mojave Ghost.) But I LOVE it as a body wash — a great, clean base scent. SO GOOD.

+Somehow missed this $35 puffer in my roundup of kid’s coats! LOVE the fall floral!

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10 thoughts on “Visitations.

  1. What a beautiful post. I am also a Catholic (educated in a Catholic school pre-K through grade 12 and also went to an all-girls high school!), and I’m fascinated by the way you discuss this topic. For one, I admire your strength in your faith: whenever I’ve had a visitation, so to speak, from a loved one, I have not been able to reconcile it with my faith. The two are separate and I can’t connect them. I guess I am your opposite, because, to me, spirits, mediums, and ghosts are all real. But, on some level, I know they are connected to my faith.

    In fact, I went to a medium after a close friend passed away when I was 18, and it was a deeply moving experience. I guess I mean to say that I think these things – our faith and these concepts of spirits, mediums, and ghosts – are all connected, and we’re lucky to have their presence in our lives, no matter which way we look at it. Thank you for opening my eyes to a new perspective.

    I’m curious what your opinion is on visitations during dreams, as I frequently had them when we lost my godfather when I was 4. For some reason, I have a harder time understanding those. It seems like dreams are less ethereal and more of a manifestation of our own subconscious, right? Visitations, as you describe them, feel much more external.

    1. Hi friend! Thank you for writing in. I honestly don’t know how to draw the lines around these…phenomena? What to call them? I do think they are all connected, as you suggest — faith, the dead, mediums, etc. They are probably all channels to the same place, and I believe that “place” is God. I had a similar conversation with my MIL this morning. Her sister passed away two years ago and every now and then, she has these visitations, or coincidences, or happenings that just seem to be her sister calling to her. Strange flukes, oddball conversations with strangers, and there is simply no other way to make sense of them but through the memory (or, as we believe, presence) of her sister.

      As you can probably tell in my writing, I am fuzzy on all of the details (is it Elizabeth? Is it my subconcious? Is it God? Is it memory? Is it a spirit?). But I think I’m also OK with that ambiguity. Maybe the point is beyond naming, and the only thing to do is bear witness.

      All to say — I admire YOU and I am sitting right next to you in the ambiguity.


  2. This was so moving it brought me to tears over my lunch break at work. I feel like I now need time to sit with these ideas, but wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you sharing your beautiful words with us ❤️

    1. Thank you so very much for letting me know, Megan. I also need time to sit with these ideas. Still, a year later, I can’t quite unpack them all. Thank you so much for your readership!!


  3. Too good. Too real. There is something about grace and “these visitations” that are so subtle but so corporeal – as you put it here. I find them to be merely missable yet so obvious. My life is marked with them at every turn – they sneak up on me but are also always anticipated.

    Thank you for putting something so spiritual and subtle into concrete words!!! We do hear our names! So beautiful.

    1. Thank you so much, Caroline! I truly believe this. Even in the less obvious, less literal ways, as you note here.


    2. Caroline, I totally agree with your assessment that visitations are easily missed but always so obvious. Maybe a reminder for me to slow down and look!

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