Biographies Are One Way to Delve into Stories of Spiritual Life

By Schlumpf, Heidi | National Catholic Reporter, March 13, 2015 | Go to article overview

Biographies Are One Way to Delve into Stories of Spiritual Life


Schlumpf, Heidi, National Catholic Reporter


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Did you hear about the story of James Robertson? He's the 56-yearold Detroit man who walked 21 miles roundtrip to his suburban factory job, because he makes only $10.55 an hour and was unable to purchase a car after his broke down a decade ago. In February, a college student who learned about Robertson's plight started an online fundraising campaign, which raised $350,000, plus a new red Ford Taurus for him.

Stories like these renew my faith in humanity, but they also cause me to wonder why the same folks who might vote to cut funding to public transportation, which would have at least shortened Robertson's commute, will quickly open their wallets to buy him a car.

Such is the power of stories. Humans are hardwired to tell stories and to respond to the stories of others. Communication theorist Walter Fisher, who taught at the University of Southern California, argued that storytelling is the oldest and most universal form of communication--and among the most persuasive types, too, which is why politicians and advertisers often use stories to sell things.

More and more, I'm finding that stories--especially biographies and memoirs--inspire and feed my spiritual life.

Perhaps because I am in the process of writing a biography, I'm realizing how fascinating it can be to immerse yourself in another person's story, especially into his or her spiritual life. What makes her tick? What were her early influences? How did a seemingly random turn in her life end up being life-changing?

But you don't have to write a biography to delve into someone's story Documentary Films, podcasts ("Serial," anyone?), and magazine articles are among the many media where I can experience the stories of people who challenge, inspire and sometimes just confound me.

Of course, my favorite medium is books. This Lent, I'm going to add some biographies and memoirs to my spiritual reading list.

Whose stories to read? For many Catholics, their first biographies were stories of officially canonized saints, whether St. Patrick or St. Clare of Assisi. Today, a number of Catholic publishers still produce saints' biographies for kids; some of the best are from the Daughters of St. Paul.

For adults, there are the classic stories of saints' lives, such as Augustine's Confessions, as well as some contemporary classics-in-the-making, such as Jon Sweeney's When Saint Francis Saved the Church: How a Converted Medieval Troubadour Created a Spiritual Vision for the Ages (2014).

But don't forget the women. Perhaps one of the most popular saint's autobiographies is Therese of Lisieux's

Story of a Soul. I'm also interested in learning more about the lives of Catholic women mystics, such as Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, and Mechtild of Magdeburg. …

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