Book Review: My Sisters the Saints, by Colleen Carroll Campbell (Image Books)
Part of the gentle awakening of aging is the recognition that the torch has passed, and that your generation is no longer the world’s benchmark of “what is.” I love growing older, watching my children mature, and seeing how the domestic foundations of yesterday become the folklore of today, but beyond the confines of the home, what sort of culture have we have bequeathed these young adults? How can we help the next generation navigate the secular world with their faith and morals intact?
The beauty of My Sister the Saints is that it provides a thoughtful account of a woman whose generation followed mine, and thus Colleen Carroll Campbell walked into adulthood as my peers were settling into the choices available to us. Only those who have really followed the world of feminism understand the waves of thought that permeated academia, and subsequently washing through the popular culture. Between the noisy bra-burners of the 1960’s to sexual deconstructionists of today, there have been a lot of theories offered to women: theories about careers, dating, marriage, motherhood, and boundaries.
The author—traversing the tremendous gap between her traditional Midwestern upbringing and the chaotic individualism of the college campus—succeeded academically but was left with existential doubt as to her place in the world. She writes:
What is the source of that gnawing sensation inside me, and why does my pursuit of pleasure and success only intensity it? Is it true that there are no real differences between the sexes, or does my femininity—and female body—have something to do with my desires and discontent? If the key to my fulfillment as a woman lies in maximizing my sexual allure, racking up professional accomplishments, and indulging my appetites while avoiding commitment, why has following that advice left me dissatisfied? Why do my friends and I spend so many hours fretting that we are not thin enough, not successful enough, simply not enough? If this is liberation, why am I so miserable?
She initially sought answers in feminism, but was put off by the harsh rhetoric against patriarchy, which was so different than her own positive experience of fatherly love. Ultimately, she gave some remarkable saints a fair reading (coupled with prayer) and found that, despite the distance of years and dissimilar vocations, their insights and advice remained sound.
In light of what she learned, Ms. Campbell didn’t shy from prayerfully choosing to love as God would have her love. Whether watching a parent deteriorate, accepting the ache of infertility, or making difficult choices concerning work and marriage, ultimately it was those very saints—and not her feminist peers—who showed her how establish the right priorities.
Ms. Campbell’s path to truth wasn’t easy, but was smoothed and purified by suffering. While this may sound disconcerting, it is the only authentic conduit to wisdom, and the only option possible for those who refuse to stop loving in a fallen world. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is corban, which actually means “to draw near.” That is what sacrifices are meant to do—to diminish the distance between God and His creatures, the distance caused by our sins. Sacrifices usually hurt, but if we imagine the suffering involved as the fire that consumes the gift on the altar of love, then we know that the outcome will be well worth the pain.
It took dedication and perseverance, but Ms. Campbell learned that loving according to God’s plan is indeed fulfilling, and it lifted the anxieties that had plagued her previously. Our sisters the saints want us to succeed at the right things, and this book is an excellent example of how the communion of believers provides encouragement, inspiration, and hope for all generations. Indeed, when you find your place—at whatever age—you may then share in that privilege of helping others to sanctity. For Ms. Campbell’s part, we are deeply grateful.