Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saints Preserve Us

A friend once shared with me that the point of believing in a higher power is not to be spared hardships, but to be divinely helped through them. Saints bracelets have been in style for the past couple of years. At the end of a particularly trying day, I looked at the images wrapped around my wrist. There wasn't a saint of  Absolutely No Hardships Or Suffering Ever. No one was ever sainted happily ever after. The saints I was wearing had been beheaded, died of tuberculosis, given up riches and privilege to find holiness in poverty, were overwrought mystics, or seen their first born publicly executed.

The idea of saints may seem quaint in 2015, but there are three contemporary writers who reignited my childhood interest in saints and made them relevant in the face of disappointments, doubts, and spiritual aridity.

Heather King, author of Shirt of Flame: A Year With St. Thérèse of Lisieux, understands what it means to struggle with unrequited love, alcoholism, and the turbulence of midlife. King's previous books: Parched and Redeemed: Stumbling Toward God, Sanity, and the Peace That Passes All Understanding covers her journey of recovery, conversion, and spiritual growth. King devoted a year of her life to reflecting on St Therese's autobiography. The writings of St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897), a cloistered French Carmelite nun taken in a personal context illuminate the bittersweet triumphs and humbling moments people face on a daily basis. 

Dawn Eden, author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints, and The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On , has eloquently shared her journey from agnostic Judaism to devout Catholicism through her blog and books. Eden shares the lives of various saints and their experiences with loss, trauma, and spiritual seeking to show how we can cope with past abuse and experience profound healing. Her chapters about saints Josephine Bakhita and Dorothy Day are especially relevant in the 21st century, as they respectively deal with human trafficking and social justice issues. My Peace I Give You acknowledges recent Catholic church abuse scandals, but helps individuals seeking solace and perspective focus on the saints as approachable role models to emulate. Eden maintains an uplifting message about personal healing. Readers will gain a sense of validation and inner peace, while eliminating undeserved shame and guilt many survivors internalize into adulthood.

Kathryn Harrison, best known for her searing memoirs The Kiss, and The Mother Knot, as well as her complex non-fiction and captivating fiction, examines the lives of St. Therese of Lisieux and Joan of Arc. Her most recent book Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured revisits the questions generations have asked about this saint. Harrison's portrayal of Joan of Arc delivers a version of a young woman with extraordinary faith and courage in the face of battle, a degrading inquisition, and being burned at the stake. Harrison masterfully interprets art, folklore, and her predecessors' analysis into viewing Joan of Arc as a unique heroine.

Harrison's book Saint Therese of Lisieux from the Penguin Lives series, helps readers who find themselves initially exasperated with Saint Therese's seemingly sugary expressiveness to find the real fire that galvanized her to enter a Carmelite convent at the age of 15 and devote her life to poverty, chastity, and obedience. In her protective family life, she was a pampered, hypersensitive neurotic, prone to scrupulosity, who through a spiritual transformation, found a new perspective and purpose for her life.

For further encouragement and reading, check out these title from ABC Library.

Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn't and Why by Kenneth L. Woodward

American Saint : The Life of Elizabeth Seton by Joan Barthel

Voices of the Saints : A Year of Readings by Bert Ghezzi

The Saints' Guide to Happiness by Robert Ellsberg

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