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A Little Flower

I have to admit, I was a little timid upon receiving this book from Paraclete Press for review. (Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy.) My timidity was due partly to the fact that many Protestants like me are not used to the idea of nuns, monks, monasteries and the like. Reading some of the Christian mystics in seminary and more through the Paraclete program, I was excited to read The Story of a Soul by Therese of Lisieux. First of all, the the translation by Robert Edmonson is a beautifully rendered account from the original French. I thought the story of Therese's life was extraordinary for the simple fact that she was so devoted at such an early life to God, and it showed in her writing. Early on at boarding school, Therese writes, "I had written to the good Fr. Pichon to commend myself to his prayers, telling him that soon I would be a Carmelite nun and then he would be my spiritual director. That is in fact what happened four years later..." (75). Here letter to Fr. Pichon came at the ripe age of 11, knowing that her destiny was to be a Carmelite nun.

Yet, as you begin to read through the pages of The Story of a Soul, you find a young woman who enters into the struggle of everyday life and its temptations. Therese awoke one morning during the Easter weekend vomiting blood and having sores from her lips. We know that she died at age 24 of tuberculosis. Yet, here struggles with coughing blood did not expell her faith and desire for heaven. She says during this time of physical struggle, "Never had the austerities of Carmel seemed to me as delightful. The hope of going to heaven transported me with gladness" (227). It was as if the more she suffered physically, the greater her whole body desired heaven. She says at one point in the chapter The Test of Faith that, "Dear Mother, I'm very far from practicing what I understand, but the very desire that I have to do so gives me peace" (247). This comment is made after her inward discussion about the vow of poverty she has taken and the way we see goods. The frank reality of living in a Carmelite nunnery does not rid a person of temptation and greed and that is what shows up in her writing, that Therese was prone to wonder also.

The best part of the book for me was the last section on 'Those Whom You Have Given Me' dealing with Therese's oversight of the novitiates. In teaching others, Therese learned that it is impossible to treat everyone the same in regards to criticism and correction. Some nuns need firmness while others need correction through a shared experience. This type of wisdom is beneficial for all relationships. Therese learned that the humility causes us to see our faults first and begin to show correction for the purpose of seeing others grow closer to God. Therese goes on in this section to talk about prayer. In some extraordinary words she says,"Therefore, how great is the power of prayer! It's like a queen's having constant free access to the kind and being able to obtain all that she asks" (264). We might say that we do not always receive what we pray for, but the intent of her heart is correct. Prayer is and should be a connection, a relationship to God in a manner that is free and unburdened by outside influence.

I think this book is a good window into the heart and soul of a Therese of Lisieux. She devotes much time to her childhood, to the way she feels about her sisters and her devotion to God. The only drawbacks I saw from the book is an overemphasis on the role of Mary in her life (this is partly due to me being a Christian). Secondly, I thought at times she could have been more introspective about her own sin, what caused her to falter. By doing this, we would only get a more honest and realistic picture of nun in the midst of others nuns. Yet, I thought the book was meant to lay out to its readers a picture of a woman devoted to God in service and praise.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy.


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