By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Book Reviewer | Published January 8, 2009
“REDEEMED : A Spiritual Misfit Stumbles Toward God, Marginal Sanity, and the Peace That Passes All Understanding” by Heather King. Viking (New York, 2008). 238 pp., $24.95.
“Redeemed” is a stunning tale. After 20 years of what she labels “acute alcoholism,” author Heather King became sober, got married, passed the bar exam and began practicing law in Los Angeles.
It seemed she had it all, but before long, she became disillusioned because the daily practice of law had little to do with the idealistic reasons she had entered the field. Also, deep in her heart, she longed to be a writer.
This reviewer is very grateful that King quit her job and devoted herself to writing. Her story in “Redeemed” is vivid, heartfelt, inspiring and downright wonderful.
After leaving law, King started a spiritual quest. She felt drawn to sample various Protestant churches, but to her they were more like social clubs than true places of worship. She is quite frank in admitting that she avoided Catholic churches at first because she had grown up Protestant and had plenty of misconceptions about Catholicism.
Her attitude changed, however, on the day she attended Mass and essentially fell in love with Jesus Christ.
As her eyes were drawn to the figure of Christ on the cross, she became intensely aware of how he had suffered. She felt drawn to comfort him and to be near him, and she soon discovered that the Catholic Mass satisfied these longings. After enrolling in R.C.I.A., she was received into the church, and her journey of love deepened.
Her thoughts on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist will make compelling reading for non-Catholics who don’t grasp the true differences between the Catholic and Protestant beliefs on this topic. Her words also are likely to stir up emotions in the hearts of seasoned Catholics, who sometimes overlook what a huge gift the Eucharist is.
The Eucharist, she notes, is the answer to the deepest prayer in the human heart, which is a longing for there to be “something holy in the world … something we haven’t wrenched with our greed, our fear, our lust.”
Although she came from a liberal background, King fully accepted the church’s stance on artificial contraception and abortion. The secular media often paint Catholic views on sex as outdated, but King immediately embraced the belief that sex is sacred and should be reserved for marriage.
She also recognized that the Catholic rejection of contraceptives shows a deep respect for women. Her words have incredible power, given that she suffered through years of empty sexual relationships and had three abortions: “It scarcely seemed a hardship to go without mechanical/chemical forms of birth control, which impinge upon a woman’s body and therefore make sex less free, unburdened, natural, and pleasurable.”
At heart, “Redeemed” is the story of how one woman fell in love with Jesus Christ. It is the tale of how she recognized his true presence in the Catholic Church. It is also the story of how this love shored her up through tragic times, most notably the death of her father and her own diagnosis of breast cancer.
Still, King is not blind to certain flaws in the everyday workings of the church. She particularly points to the music, saying that if she were the pope, she would be quick to ban most “post-Vatican II hymns and all guitar Masses.” Despite this annoyance, however, she describes herself leaving Mass feeling more peaceful, charitable, hopeful and trusting than when she arrived.
Sadly, there was one casualty on her road to conversion: her marriage to a man who, unfortunately, was not drawn to Christ as his wife was. The two found themselves drifting further apart, and they finally divorced. They had no children, so the end of the book finds King alone, at least from the worldly perspective.
With the eyes of faith, however, she realizes that, during the years she was lonely, it was Jesus she sought. And while on a retreat, she has an insight: “Maybe God himself longs for connection.”
King sets an extra place at her table each day. This symbolizes her openness to whatever God sends, whether it is another book, the chance for great generosity, or even sickness and death.
This reviewer hopes for King’s continued good health and casts a strong vote for a new book.
Lorraine V. Murray’s most recent book is “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist” (Ignatius Press).