Chicken soup for the soul of fans of The Secret Life of Bees
Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd. By Sue Monk Kidd. GuidepostsBooks, 227 pp., $19.95.
By Janice Harayda
“Inspirational” is often a publishing industry code for “wacko.” In the spirituality section of your local bookstore, you may find books about UFOs, magic mushrooms, sacred-conspiracy theories — almost anything except traditional religious beliefs. The writing in some of these books doesn’t “inspire” anything except a trip to the paper-shredder.
Firstlight is a lovely exception. Novelist Sue Monk Kid began her literary career by writing personal essays and vignettes for Guideposts, an interfaith magazine with a Christian focus. And she has collected some of those pieces and others in a book divided into sections on topics such as solitude, compassion, and finding the sacred in the ordinary.
Guideposts magazine offers what you might call “Christianity lite” – no heavy theological discourse — and that’s what you get here. Many of the entries in Firstlight are short enough that they could have appeared in books in the popular “Chicken Soup” series. Some have a tidied-up air – they aren’t as messy as life – or deliver a clichéd moral such as, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” or “God doesn’t always answer prayers as we expect.”
But Firstlight still has much offer to groups that include book clubs that have selected its author’s The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair. In some of her best essays, Kidd writes about her decision to give up nursing and become a writer after reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain at the age of 29. In others she writes about a struggle with perfectionism that once reduced her to taking “blue tranquilizers to get through the day.” And even atheists in book clubs may be moved by her poignant stories of her grandmother, who died at the age of 98. Kidd writes that on the day her grandmother died, her mother found a piece of paper beside her bed that said: “May I wake ready for that daily, yet greatest of all gifts – a fresh start.”
Best line: Kidd writes about visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery in Kentucky: “Even though I yearn for this acre of solitude, some other part of me hungers for the larger world of ‘relevance,’ as if my solitude were a rarefied form of loitering.”
Worst line: At times, Kidd stops just short of talking about her “inner child.” She writes about “the inner divine,” “the inner Beloved,” and “the inner story” that each of us knows.
Recommended if … you’re looking for background on Kidd or intelligent but easy-to-read meditations on Christianity. Firstlight could make a good Lenten study text for church women’s groups after it comes out in paperback (though the publisher doesn’t say when this might occur).
Published: October 2006.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.