August 8, 2010

Where God Begins to Be - Karen Karper

What a delightful and though-provoking book this is. I first heard about it last May over on Amanda's blog, and immediately went and ordered a copy for myself.

In 1959, at the age of 17, the author entered a Poor Clare monastery and spent 30 years living in community as a nun. During that time, she struggled with a call to give up the community life and the security that it promised, and enter the wilderness to become a hermit and trust in God to provide for her day-to-day needs.

This is her story of growth and learning survival skills (chopping wood, fetching water, killing poisonous snakes etc) as well as her spiritual growth (sharing what little she had and trusting that she would have enough; seeing the beauty and cherishing what she once sought to destroy - wild rosebushes in this case; patience and humility in learning to quilt; being still and hearing the voice of God).

There are several quotes throughout the book that sum it up very well:

"There where clinging to things ends, there God begins to be." (Meister Eckhart)

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, ... and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." (Robert Frost)

"Your heavenly father knows all that you need. Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides." (Matt. 6:32-33, a slightly different translation than the one that I am familiar with)

I enjoyed this book very much, and can relate to a lot of the struggles that she goes through - trusting that God knows what we need more than we do; balancing solitude with relationship; having the confidence to go into myself and evaluate what I truly think and feel. It constantly raised questions in my mind. What am I doing in my life that shows God's kingship over me? Do I trust that God will provide for me, or am I still clinging to self-reliance? Could I live a life in solitude? I think that I will choose to answer these questions in the privacy of my journal rather than here in public!

I had assumed that a hermits life implied total solitude, so I was surprised at how much of the book dealt with building relationships with others (not just God). From the two Franciscan sisters living down the road, to her cat, to other neighbours who always showed up with exactly what was needed, when it was needed. After this book arrived, but before I had a chance to read it, I loaned it to a Very Catholic friend of mine (waves to Sarah if you are reading this!) who said that she enjoyed the book, but that it wasn't what she was expecting. I wonder if it was this aspect that she meant?

This is a book that I think is going to stay with me, and that I will choose to re-read on a regular basis. There were just so many messages in it for me.


sarah said...

Morning Dada Kate, and thanks for the shoutout! :)

I think what I meant by not expecting it to be as it was, was that there was an awful lot of narrative. She is a skilful writer and the anecdotes she shared were neat but sometimes I'd have liked to read more about her growth or introspection. I know it was framed by the 'story' of her experiences, but it felt disjointed to me. Maybe (probably) I just wasn't on the ball enough!

I think your idea about reading and re-reading it is a great one: being "in a different place" in one's life would probably invite fresh reflection at each read.


Kate said...

Hey there Dada Sarah,
Yes there was a lot of narrative, but that is part of what I enjoyed about the book. I liked how each chapter was centered around an incident or episode in her experience, but that she was able to use that lesson to explain a step in her spiritual growth. I did find that there was more introspection towards the end of the book. I'd love to know how she got from the end of the book to where she is now (married, running a retreat centre, editing a magazine...).

There are definitely some books that need to be re-read - I go back to Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis) at least once a year, and it gets better and has new messages for me each time I read it!