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Let in the Light

Let in the Light: Facing the Hard Stuff with Hope
by Patricia H. Livingston
Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2006
156 pages
Reviewed by Kathryn Madden, CND

Contrary to the familiar adage, Let in the Light is one book that can truly be judged by its cover. Convinced that “no skill we will ever learn is more important than throwing open every door and window in out hearts and minds and souls to embrace all the ways we can find of letting in the light” (p. 14), Patricia H. Livingston does just that. Through her conversational, anecdotal approach, she engagingly lifts the pane of life’s pain and pulls back the curtains of human suffering to allow stories and sources of illumination to stream through these pages.

While clearly writing from a Christian perspective, Livingston draws upon other faith traditions in presenting her down-to-earth message intended for ordinary people in all walks of life seeking to tap into “thoughts, feelings, actions and experiences that create positive energy in us and those around us” (p. 15). However, the upbeat tenor and popular appeal of the book do not belie the author’s nuanced grasp of “chiaroscuro” (p. 34), or the balance of light and dark in a painting and on the canvas of life as “an adventure of daunting difficulty” (p. 10).

I was intrigued by the simple strategies Livingston proposes as beacons for welcoming life’s challenges and blessings. For example, she suggests that by practicing “reframing” (p. 24), or choosing what we want to focus on in daily experiences of frustration or inconvenience, we can become more adept at shifting our language and altering our expectations in the face of radical changes in our health and circumstances. For the most hectic of days, Livingston offers this consoling, practical wisdom: “When you can’t slow yourself down enough to pray, use the times when you are forced to slow down. Think of them as God carving out places to meet, whether this be in the grocery check-out line or during a sleepless night” (p. 103).

Echoing St. Ignatius of Loyola’s advice to store up and savor the strength of a period of consolation in prayer against a future time of desolation, Livingston invites us to receive and remember goodness in our lives so that “somehow the light of the goodness is transformed into trust for God and stored up in our souls to be called upon in times when goodness seems absent” (p. 109).

In acknowledging that at times we all find ourselves “with too much dark in our eyes” (p. 10), Livingston sheds illumination on the mystery of suffering by describing how offering our pain to God as prayer allows the pain to become the prayer. In this way, we become agents of redemption, allowing God to transform our pain into the light of love and a channel of grace for others.

While not every spiritual director may be attracted to Livingston’s brand of inspirational wisdom, I find that as a storyteller she gratefully, humorously, and poignantly speaks to people and helps them share their sacred stories every day.

Kathryn Madden, CND, completed spiritual direction training in the Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. She is currently a participant in the Center for Religious Development Associates Program in Spiritual Direction in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

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