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An Unquenchable Thirst: A Memoir
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Elizabeth Andrew (elizabethjarrettandrew) | 5 comments I have utmost regard for Mary Johnson. The theology she stakes her life on--a divine presence who invites humans into fullness--isn't so remarkable in isolation, but when set against the theology of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, it becomes radically rebellious. Mother Teresa's a modern-day saint; we hold her in such high esteem, we find it difficult to imagine how very human she was. I admire the courage Mary had to muster in order to claim a God of unfolding love over the God of rules within Mother Teresa's order.

AN UNQUENCHABLE THIRST traces Mary's twenty years in the order in terrific (sometimes excruciating) detail. I disliked myself at times while reading this book; I was turning pages to get the dirt on Mother Teresa more than to follow Mary's journey. Perhaps this wasn't my fault. I frequently wished Mary would abandon the close narration of events for a more reflective stance. I wanted to know what she thinks and feels about these events NOW. For example, there's one scene where she confronts her superior for hitting children in their care that occurs not far from scenes of the nuns using the "discipline," meaning flagellating themselves and cinching chains around their arms. I wanted a narrator to draw connections between the two forms of physical punishment and the theology implicit in both. Without this meaning-making, the book reads like a thriller.

Nonetheless, I'm glad to have read it. Few contemporary authors portray the spiritual life with such honesty and accuracy.


message 2: by Beryl (new)

Beryl (berylbee) | 5 comments An excellent review that has enticed me to read An Unquenchable Thirst. Yes. I knew the same confusion and contrariness during my 15 years as a cloistered nun in the pre-Vatican II Church and wrote about it in The Scent of God (Counterpoint 2006, 2007). Mary's title is intriguing. The search for God, the burning desire for union with God, continues to dominate the lives of most of the priests and nuns whom I've been privileged to know. Rebellion does not mean rejection. It is the fruit of openness to the questions we all must ask ourselves. The way shown us by the saints is not always the way God leads us. The rigid adherence to rules precludes obedience to the inner voice that grapples with the unknowable and continues to yearn.


Elizabeth Andrew (elizabethjarrettandrew) | 5 comments Here is a beautiful read! Beryl Singleton Bissell manages to tell the story of leaving a contemplative order after many difficult years with great kindess. While her experiences are hard, especially her struggles with anorexia and the theology of self-deprivation that supported it, she weaves the stories with compassionate reflections. These and the present-tense, second-person interludes that invite the reader to experience the monastic hours with her create a container bigger than the monastery--a world-view able to find continuity in the sacred both in and outside monastery walls. And the outside world is no piece of cake; her relationship with a priest is fraught with conflict, great love, and eventually loss. So the reverence and love of life that frames this story is remarkable. This book feels like a witness to love's mysteries.

The Scent of God A Memoir by Beryl Singleton Bissell


Elizabeth Andrew (elizabethjarrettandrew) | 5 comments Beryl--Thanks for commenting on Mary Johnson's book; you got me to FINALLY read your story. I can't believe it's taken me this long. Your book had the reflective, faithful context I so wished for in Mary's story.

What are your favorite spiritual memoirs? Any chance you're ever in Minneapolis and willing to visit over tea or coffee?

Elizabeth


message 5: by Beryl (new)

Beryl (berylbee) | 5 comments Yes. I'd love to meet for coffee sometime, Elizabeth. I will be returning to Lake Superior in early May and have a few talks scheduled in the Minneapolis area. Perhaps we can meet while I'm down there. Not sure, off hand, exactly what dates. Do you have an email I could use? That way I can enter you into my data base and make a note to contact you in May.

I just read a lovely spiritual memoir called My Life With the Saints by Father James Martin SJ. Have you read Karen Armstrong's The Spiral Path? It's a different sort of spiritual journey . . . from religious life to becoming one of the world's great authorities on World Religions.


Elizabeth Andrew (elizabethjarrettandrew) | 5 comments Beryl,

I'm at elizabeth@spiritualmemoir.com. I'd love to meet in May!

Armstrong's THE SPIRAL PATH is one of my favorites. I'll look up MY LIFE WITH THE SAINTS; thanks.

Let's stay in touch,
Elizabeth


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