What kind of writer is Heather King?
She’s other things too: precise, honest and witty, but passionate is not only the word, but the trembling sensation that emanates from the pages and settles around me when I read her.
Passion – remember – has its roots in a word that means “suffering.”
Shirt of Flame is her latest book – a year with St. Therese of Lisieux. It follows Parched, the harsh, unrelenting memoir of her two decades as a serious, blacked-out alcoholic, and Redeemed, the story of her conversion.
Shirt of Flame is not as linear as the others, which surprised me a little, given the title. But that’s just a side note. The book offers a marvelous, searching interplay between the Therese’s spirituality and Heather’s own struggles – which are clearly also our own, as well.
It’s all about poverty. Accepting our poverty, understanding the poverty of everyone else – every single person we meet – and then, every day, letting grace make us rich.
I won’t babble on any more. Just enjoy this excerpt.
Some days I drove, but mostly I walked the five long blocks, through traffic and honking horns, past the grand old apartment buildings, the Dong-A Book Plaza, the parking lot attendant at Heyri Coffee with whom, after many years, I was at last on nodding terms, the abandoned lot from which I sometimes plucked a frond of wild fennel through the chain link fence, and across Wilshire Boulevard to St. Basil’s, built int he late 1960′s, with its soaring concrete walls, high, narrow stained-glass windows and echoing sanctuary.
Here, I cast my lot with whatever other rag-tag dregs of humanity walked thorugh the doors: the homeless Hispanic man sleeping on the pew beside me, the Korean matron, the Vietnamese nun, in her sneakers and veil. Like Therese, I had no one with whom to share my deepest inner life. As an alcoholic, I knew all too well my bereftness, my nothingness. To have been born in some sense mentally ill was also to have been rendered so poor in spirit as to burn with love for Christ and his imperfect, shabby, sometimes embarrassing Church.
Many days I was so distracted or anxious that I could barely hear a single word. Other times a phrase I’d heard a thousand times would strike me with the force of revelation. Daily Mass changed the way I ordered my time. Daily Mass forced me to pause. Daily Mass made me feel simultaneously broken and triumphant, consoled and afraid. That the sacrifice upon which the world had been saved was re-enacted each day in the shadow of Tofu Cabin and Gentle Dental simultaneously mystified, moved, depressed and cheered me.
I took in the Gospel; I listened to the homilies. I wept, I sighed, I gratefully concurred, I mentally argued. But all the while, I was obeying. At a level way deeper than I could have with my ears, I was listening carefully.
Out on Wilshire again — Golf Town, Nara Bank — I’d think. No one knows I go to Mass; no one would care if I didn’t. Walking home, I’d think: Was that a dream?
But more and more, I saw that Christ was the realest thing there was.