It is popular these days to call memoir creative non-fiction. A flattening expression, at first glance, unless we lean in, look more closely and ask questions. In the telling of our stories, what craft is at work? If we look at our lives creatively, what meaning can we find or make?
In Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St Francis and Other Unlikely Saints, Christiana N. Peterson crafts the story of her family’s life in a Mennonite farming community in the American Midwest. She and her husband Matthew moved there seeking to live a simple, grounded and faithful life with their young children. But living in intentional community is difficult and life anywhere fills with seasons of anxiety and grief. Pulled between her ideals and life’s exhausting reality, Peterson found comfort in the stories of some of the Church’s oddest saints. Francis of Assisi, Margert Kempe, Simone Weil, and Dorothy Day were surprising kindred spirits for a low-church Protestant mother of four, but Peterson saw that these saints and others were, like her, simply people trying to live holy lives on the edges of society. By telling their stories alongside her own, Peterson creates a larger narrative about the difficult business of authentic living and the deep soul work of honesty.
This is a beautifully crafted book. Peterson creatively offers us a model of the faithful life as a conversation among believers. Across the divisions of time, space and traditions, honest personal stories can make community. But the community Peterson finds is a seeking one. These pages are filled with a deep hunger for encounter not only with holiness, but also with the Holy One. This book calls us to fully enter our world – whatever its particular circumstances might be – to meet there the incarnate creator God who loves with love that is fully human and fully divine.
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