My first non-fiction of 2012 is Shirt of Flame by Heather King. In this part-memoir, part-biography, King chronicles her year of “walking with” St. Therese of Lisieux. Although this book is easy to read and rather engaging, I haven’t been able to write about it yet because it makes me think so much. In fact, I began and saved this post as a draft no fewer than three times before finally writing it.
One of the greatest attractions of the saints is finding out how they were able to take their humanity and find holiness. Modern saints, who we know so much about, especially ones who wrote their own memoirs, are the best to get close to in this way, because we can apply concepts from their lives to our own. King seems to agree with me about applying concepts from the saints’ lives. In Shirt of Flame, she pieces together episodes from the life of St. Therese with her own life, all the while inviting us to think and meditate on how this Church Doctor’s wisdom fits into our lives.
Most of the chapters follow a pattern: each chapter begins with a quote or two from St. Therese’s writings or writings about her. Then King tells something about St. Therese and how she related. She then invites her readers to think about how it could work in their own lives. Finally, she ends each chapter with a prayer which the reader can pray– a prayer it is obvious she prayed as she wrote.
One of the things that has always attracted me to St. Therese is how she endeavored to treat everyone lovingly, even people she didn’t like. I am afraid I often treat people I love as if I didn’t even like them, but she wrote about how she would smile at and save a seat for a nun she couldn’t stand to be around, and how she would always help an older, arthritic nun to the dining room, even though she was crabby. This is a pattern we could all stand to apply in our lives. King makes it clear that the things that St. Therese did were not just for the consecrated religious; they are things we can do.
I, for my part, have been working on patience. Lately, no one has tried my patience more than a particular lady in my office, for whom I am the assistant “of record.” She is a perfectly lovable person, very sweet, well-educated, but not knowledgeable about technology. It is fine that she doesn’t know about technology, that’s my job. However, she thinks I know much more than I know, including sometimes the inner workings of her mind, I think, because she gives rather vague directions and makes up abbreviations. I am ashamed to report that in my last in-person interaction with this lady, I was everything but patient. Since then, each time I receive an e-mail from her, I try to remember how patient God is with me and learn to be that way with her. God knows that I am a sinful, stubborn person. Despite my childhood devotion, from my late teens to my mid-twenties, I lived as if God weren’t there, or if He was, He didn’t really care. He waited for me, and when the time was right, he sent conversion. When I attempted to pray, I often felt like He wasn’t understanding, as I sometimes don’t understand my co-worker. Little did I know that I was the one who didn’t understand all along. God sent people and situations into my life that helped me understand (at least as much as I can). He is patient with me so that I can be patient with the people He puts into my life.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.2 Corinthians 1:3-4