A memoir recommended for those seeking a spiritual and emotional healing regiment that includes the healing powers of mysticism.
Mary Swander is an award-winning poet and essayist and the author of eight books including Out of This World: A Journey of Healing. In this exquisitely written memoir, she recounts being disabled by an automobile accident in Iowa that left her in severe pain. After her search for some release from suffering reaches a dead end, she decides to make a pilgrimage to the desert of New Mexico, known for the healing waters of Jemez Springs and the miraculous soil of El Santuario de Chimayo. She takes a post as a visiting professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Raised as a strict Catholic, the author objected to its authoritarian dogma and poor treatment of women and left the faith. Yet much to her surprise, she finds herself drawn to Father Sergei, a Russian Orthodox monk who runs an inner-city monastery in Santa Fe composed of two small bungalows and a garage transformed into a chapel. He is an icon painter with an "untamed enthusiasm" that Swander finds endearing. He shares with her that he almost died after being hit by a car as a boy and now realizes that the pain he experienced helped him understand the suffering of others.
Father Sergei gives Swander a spiritual and emotional healing regimen that includes reading the mystical writings of Hildegard of Bingen, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and Saint Francis of Assisi, and then trying to integrate the ideas and attitudes into her life. She also works with Lu, a Hispanic herbal healer who encourages her to tap into her feminine intuition and to draw strength from her ancestors, those with broken hearts and battered bodies who have gone before her. The author realizes that if Lu had been alive during the Inquisition, she probably would have been executed as a witch for her herbal remedies.
One of the hardest lessons for Swander to learn is detachment: "Detachment was alluring but scary. It's hard to give up the very things you think will offer you stability. At the same time, through reading the works of St. Teresa, I saw that detachment was the only route to serenity, a deepening of spirituality, and a union with the Divine." Through her experiences in New Mexico, Swander reclaims her faith and finds a mooring that had been absent during her life in Iowa. Meditation, prayer, and the unstinting wisdom and support of Father Sergei and Lu provide just the right healing milieu. Eventually, she is able to cast aside her cane and walk on her own power. This memoir of healing is highly recommended!