Author Heather King + Book Giveaway "Shirt of Flame: a year with Saint Therese of Lisieux" #EEAuthorInterview
Today I am absolutely thrilled to bring you Heather King, an author I consider one of my spiritual mentors. Her book, Shirt of Flame: a year with Saint Therese of Lisieux was life-changing for me.
I've written about following St. Therese's "Little Way" and how being blindsided by longing helped me channel that passion into love for God and that embarrassing moment when Jesus spoke to me through a Ne-Yo song.
In case you haven't heard of her, St. Therese was a young nun who followed her sisters into the Carmel convent in France and became a cloistered nun at age fifteen. She died at age 24 from tuberculosis. But in her brief, shining life she developed a spiritual discipline called "The Little Way." St. Therese considered herself "too small" to do great and glorious things for God so she decided to do offer every action of her "little" life with great love. Heather King quotes Joseph Fr. Schmidt, FSC as saying: "[The 'little way'] was a matter of allowing the divine will to unfold in very ordinary, everyday experiences of life and of responding with generosity, confidence and love." [p.71]
In her autobiography, St. Therese writes that her 'little way' was not the easy way or the lazy way. It was, in fact, a way of mortifying herself for the sake of others, of "holding my tongue instead of answering back; in doing little things for others without hoping to get anything in return, in not slumping when I was sitting down..." [p. 164, Story of a Soul]
Those little mortifications, those little ways of saying no to my own laziness, my own will, even my slumping posture—even those small things I can offer as a living sacrifice.
Here is my conversation with Heather King:
EE: In Shirt of Flame, you write: "We can only know that we are not loved one iota more if we get sober, or one iota less if we stay drunk. We can only hope to do the best we can with what we've been given." (p.20) For those of us who have grown up with a wrathful, vengeful perception of God, HOW can we learn to BELIEVE this truth? Do you have any tips for us? How did you come to believe this yourself?
HK: I believe it on faith. And I believe that we‘re loved because we exist, not because our virtue or good deeds or sobriety have earned us a special place in Jesus’s heart. As my friend Fr. Terry says, “The good news is you’re loved by God. The bad news is everyone else is loved just as much.”
I don’t have any tips. I think faith is a long, rocky pilgrimage that does not take place on our timetable. For me it’s been decades of progress that is so slow I’m never sure it’s progress at all. My only idea has been to stay as close to Christ as possible. I try to stay close to the Gospels and close to the Sacraments, especially Mass. It’s really about serving God, and letting Him heal us in his way, on his timetable, in the way he sees fit to heal us. Just the fact that the good Lord has got me up and running such that I’m dressed, sitting up straight, and have showed up to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass itself is a miracle. My question isn’t so much what is the Eucharist going to do for me; how is it going to heal me? My question, my prayer, is to abandon myself completely The miracle has already happened. The reign of love has been established. God became man, pitched his tent among us, let us kill him and was resurrected. So I get to simply show up and be part of that.
EE: Later in the book you write: "The way to become whole, in other words, is to become fully ourselves....we can't cloister ourselves out of fear of relationships—as Therese certainly did not—but we do need to offer up our ideas of whether and in what way people 'should' love us." (p.32) Oh, my goodness, this struck me so deeply and it is a passage I have returned to time and again. For those of us, like me, who are bound up in needing, wanting, aching for others to love us the way we believe they SHOULD love us, how do we learn to let go of this? What does that kind of practice look like for you? Is it still difficult for you to let go of wanting others to love you in a particular way?
HK: Oh my God, of course, yes! Though I must say less so. This has really been my lifelong journey—maybe it’s everyone’s. If you’re talking about romantic love, I think we’re drawn to whoever we’re going to be drawn to and then the carnage begins. The being shattered, ripped apart, nailed to a cross. At least that’s what it’s been like for me, always. I think that’s often how God works: through another person in the absolute last way we would have wanted or asked for.
But when I say we can’t cloister ourselves out of fear of relationships I don’t mean just romantic relationships. We’re formed by our suffering and exile for a very different kind of love than the love that grasps and wants to possess. That takes most of us a long, long time. You have to sort of give yourself to God to dispose of as He likes. Which, no matter how seemingly painful and lonely turns out to be a lot less painful than, say, piningover some guy who is emotionally and every other way unavailable. We have to take responsibility for our own happiness—we get to order our lives to the search for beauty and truth, surround ourselves with books, music, activities that nourish and challenge us. I think we do care less and less about ourselves as we continue on the spiritual path. We’re ever more sure or our worth, in God’s eyes, and we’re ever less concerned about our worth in the eyes of the world.
EE: You quote St. Therese, as she is dying, that she doesn't happier to die sooner rather than later but: "What makes me happy is only to do the will of God." How did you learn to trust that God's will was the best for you? How do we get over the fear that God doesn't have our best interest in mind? How can we learn to be happy in only doing the will of God?
HK: Well again, this is the whole pilgrimage, or at least the first part of it: coming to believe that God has our best interests in mind. That we are loved and that He is in our corner, completely. The problem is that we seek and think we want instead the things of the world: attention, security, fame, youth, beauty, money, the admiration of our fellows.
St. Therese of Lisieux had a very well-known “second conversion” on Christmas Eve at the age of I think 13 or 14. Up to that time, she was kind of clingy and co-dependent and overly emotive. Something happened, I won’t go into the whole story here, but on a dime, everything changed. She said on that “night of lights” Christ did for her in ten seconds what she hadn’t been able to do on her own in ten years. She said that night “charity entered my heart”—and ever after she was “happy.” In spite, of course, of more or less unrelenting suffering till the day she died, in agony, of TB at the tender age of 24.
Anyway, lately I’ve been praying for charity to enter my heart. This would be a tall order as I am very possibly the most selfish self-centered person on earth. I’m a terrible exaggerator but I am not exaggerating about that. I can’t wish away or will away my selfishness. Jesus says that whatever we ask for in his name, he will give us. So I asked recently in Jesus’s name for charity to enter my heart. For Jesus to help me to be a little more generous, a little less judgmental, however he might make that work.
Well I have sponsored for a few years this darling young girl, Brenda, from Honduras, through a Catholic program called Unbound. I send 40 bucks a month and we write back and forth a few times a year. Brenda finally moved to an area that Unbound doesn’t serve, so the other day I got an envelope with a photo and a little bio of my new person I get to sponsor, Gilberto, 7. The CUTEST child ever (besides Brenda). Little blue shirt, standing tall, hands clutched to his side. He lives in a freaking room with 5 other people. His father’s a laborer who finds work only sporadically and his mother sells tortillas.
And you know, I looked at that photo and I thought of all the things in my life I’ve felt are “unfair” and I thought What is really unfair is that I’m sitting in a cozy apartment in Pasadena CA with food in the fridge, a laptop, my piano, my garden, my birdfeeders—and Gilberto’s mother is selling tortillas. I mean really I do feel this is the stuff we should be concerned about.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be elbowing people aside TO GET WHAT I WANT in various ways tomorrow, or five minutes from now. We think we want to be the favorite and always in the limelight and understood and comforted and adored. But the older you get, if you’re lucky, the more you realize you can just never get enough of that stuff. It doesn’t last and you can’t get enough of it. No-one knew that better than Jesus. He was tempted by those things out in the desert and he said no thank you—no matter the price.
Not long ago I was in the waiting room at the doctor and I opened a Vanity Fair and there was an ad for a luxury car or a handbag company or something like that. A photo of a drop-dead gorgeous model, alighting from a town car to make her entrance to some flashy hotel nightclub, guys slavering all around to help her out. And I thought that is so not what I would wish for. I would wish to have the heart of Mother Teresa. A heart for the poor. A willingness to serve. Freedom from the bondage of self. That is the pearl of great price. And there’s no shortcut.
book giveaway details:
to enter the book giveaway, please share this blog post on social media and include the hashtag #EEAuthorInterview.
all posts Must include the hashtag so we can keep track of entries. winner will be randomly selected on friday, november 3rd.
Thank you, heather king, for graciously sharing yourself with us.