Review of Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Review of Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux by Bridget Hilbe, Spiritual Springs Community, Richmond, Texas
When I became a Theresian 12 years ago, I actually knew very little about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. As I read about St. Thérèse, I had difficulty relating to her life. Quite frankly, Thérèse never had to worry about earning a living, maintaining a loving relationship with a husband, caring for children and elderly family members, and navigating the pitfalls of our material, high tech, complicated world. Thérèse’s circle was so small, with very few distractions. Her young life was one of privilege, of course she would have time for quiet meditations, devotion and focus on loving our Lord. You know how it is, the more you read and learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know or understand. It wasn’t until I went to the Theresian National Conference in New Orleans, LA in 2018, that I found a way to relate to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and more fully understand and attempt to apply her little way directly into my daily life.
While at the 2018 National Conference I had the opportunity to meet and hear author Heather King speak. At that conference, I was introduced to Heather’s book Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Heather was the keynote speaker at that conference. Heather’s book pairs her conversion from a former life as an attorney, alcoholic, a self-described “bar-fly” (from her book Stumble), non-religious person into a celibate, contemplative author, obedient and devoted practicing Catholic. Spending a year with St. Thérèse, Heather adeptly elaborates on the human crosses and everyday annoyances that distract all of us from giving ourselves fully and completely over to the service and love of the Divine. By using examples from Thérèse’s life journey of devotion and love, Heather shares examples from her own journey of faith. Heather speaks honestly and frankly to the questions, distractions, and barriers we all put up when trying for a deeper life of faith, love and devotion.
Sometimes it is the little annoyances in life that we focus on, distracting us from loving fully. In Shirt of Flame, Heather King relates how, by practicing St, Thérèse’s Little Way, we can move past those annoyances that bring about their own barriers to love and kindness. Heather uses the story of the nun that sat behind Thérèse at choir clicking her rosary against her teeth making a distracting, annoying sound. Instead of saying something to the nun, “Thérèse realized that the more charitable act would be to pretend that the sound was music to Christ’s ears and endured the annoyance in silence.” Heather provides additional examples from her life, thus helping me to relate and understand how to more effectively put the Little Way into practice in my daily life. For example, I would let it bother me when my husband would occasionally leave his dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. If left alone, Dave would eventually pick up his laundry. But would I wait for that? Succumbing to my OCD, often I would let him know that it needs to be picked up on my time schedule, which is right now. Not charitable or loving. Instead, I can quietly pick up the dirty clothes and take them to the laundry myself. It’s a little thing – a little way of showing love, whether it is acknowledged or not.
My life’s journey is far from that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Heather King, through her book, has helped me to relate to St. Thérèse, to push past the distractions of everyday life and give myself permission to embrace the simple, to act out of kindness, to carve out quiet time to reflect, and to simply love our Lord. This book would make a wonderful book study for any Theresian community. At the close of each chapter, Heather offers up a wonderful prayer to reflect upon as you digest what was presented. I love honest heartfelt writing. Heather King is unapologetically honest. At times, I think she is speaking directly to me, lovingly making sure that I have fully grasped the message behind St. Thérèse’s life and how I should and can incorporate the Little Way into my own daily life.