by Sue Monk Kidd

GuidepostsBooks, 2006. ISBN 0824947061.
Reviewed by Duffie Bart
Posted on 11/27/2006

Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Creative Life

Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd is a book I return to over and over. It contains a number of essays she wrote when in her thirties for the spiritual magazine, Guideposts. In her late twenties, early thirties the author seriously began to examine the reality of her inner life, the meaning and purpose of her life, and become serious about being a writer. Not surprisingly, when Guideposts asked that she assemble her essays into a book, Mrs. Kidd had her doubts that her writing from that period in her life would still have merit and represent her as she is today.

But these are beautiful essays, each one. They are not outdated, nor do they reveal an immaturity that might well have existed when she wrote them. What raises her writing above the numerous spiritual books published today is her focus on stories. She expresses her spiritual wisdom in the form of stories, and her stories are both insightful and touching as well as expressed with a directness and clarity of style that makes them irresistible.

Kidd is not a preacher; she is a born storyteller and a born writer. She believes that telling stories and spirituality are inextricably bound together, that delving into the mysterious interior realm of her soul is the very source of her creativity. She explains that all this began for her when reading Thomas Merton's autobiographical book, The Seven Storey Mountain, that this book had "a life-altering effect on me when I read it at the age of twenty-nine," and that it was this book that led her to become a writer.

She believes that "creativity is essentially a spiritual experience, a conversation between my soul and me." She tells us of her "raw longing for the Divine," her "irrepressible hunger for that deepest thing in myself." She dedicates herself to the articulation of her spiritual quest. A difficult feat and one in which she triumphs. Her subject, broadly speaking, is the soul, the spirit of existence that is called by many names in different cultures but is in essence nameless. It is her belief in the inextricable interaction between the spiritual and the creative that speaks to me, that opens me to her writing and to the person she is. Her philosophy serves as roadmap for me into my own creativity, which is often as elusive as the wind.

The question to which the title of her book refers is the vulnerability in all of us that can lead to the illumination of who we are, perhaps even how we wish to change. She suggests that we try to find the moment, and perhaps more than one moment, when our hearts first opened, when an experience became the "Firstlight" that touched us in a way to perhaps change us forever, to start us on our own path of communion with something greater than ourselves, a path of revelation that connected us to our creativity, to our powerful potential that can guide us to hitherto unknown experiences and emotions. How this happened for Sue Monk Kidd needs to be read rather than revealed here. But I cannot resist emphasizing, perhaps at the risk of repeating myself, her belief in stories. Her words tell this best: "I believe in stories," she writes. "The world has enough dogma. It's stories we need more of, stories that reverence the still, small voice that sings our life. As Anthony de Mello observed, 'The shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.' Jesus, himself, told stories about the most common things in the world: a lost sheep, a seed that falls on rocky ground, a woman who sweeps her house in search of a coin, a man whose son runs away from home. 'All personal theology,' de Mello instructs us, 'should begin with the words: Let me tell you a story.'"

Sue Monk Kidd's stories are just as simple as those mentioned above. She describes watching her two young children playing in the snow, laughing as they fall backward like "a toppled snowman." How they yell to her over and over to watch them, how she would exclaim her delight with assurances and shout out "grand superlatives" at what they were doing. How touched she is by her realization that their need for approval and admiration is cut deeply into their little souls. And how vitally important it is that she tell them that they are indeed wonderful.

Another story tells about the father of a six-year-old lying in a hospital bed in a deep coma. He comes to her day after day, bringing her flowers, sitting by her bed, stroking her hair, keeping up a quiet conversation about her dog, her brother, the weather, anything he thinks might interest her. Never tiring, hour after hour. Never losing hope.

Firstlight is a book about stories; specifically, stories taken from the author's own life. Stories of her experiences that have led to the many changes she has made in her life. She shares with us the stories that have touched her, affected her in a deep way. In reading them, I too am touched; I too am changed. I eagerly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to be on a similar journey.

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