An Unlit Candle by Caren J.Werlinger ~ my review

An exquisite novel, following the lifelines of two incredible characters, one choosing the call to monastic life and remaining faithfull to her love for God and the other choosing her heart after tweenty years in a convent, yet still her religious side is a very important part of her life and she tries to find her way in the world outside the convent, which is uncharted territory for whom she became now.

Mother Theodora and Lauren are very much different, but so much alike in their religious personas and also to their love for people showing their human personas.

This is a sequel to „In This Small Spot”, continuing Lauren’s (sister Anselma’s) story in  the present and Mother Theodora’s story from the past (between the years 1960 and 2000).

I loved the way Mother Theodora’s story the story from her  past was told separately from Lauren’s story from the present, but still they are entwined at the most precise moments in each of their lives now.

There are many themes touched in this book which are unique in lesfic :

  • the calling to monastic life, how to understand and make the difference between the real call to monastic life or choose monastic life due to different circumstances in life : poverty, family feud, lost love, despair or confusion, depression;
  • the challenges of monastic life, why is it so hard to stay in the convent and fullfil the calling to monastic life when so many leave it for the life outside of it;
  • how is monastic life in a contemplative monastery;
  • what is monastic silence and how is it useful;
  • what are monastic retreats;
  • why would one choose a contemplative religious life;
  • what happens to a former nun when she leaves the convent, how will she adapt to the outside world and so many others.

The meaning of the title „ An Unlit Candle„:  monastic life is not easy, especialy in a contemplative Catholic monastery like St.Bridget’s abbey, and of course there will be nuns who will want to proceed with the traditional ways and otthers who will want to follow the second Vatican council’s needs of the modern world. Mother Teodora, while she was sister Theodora had a powerful opposant in sister Beatrice who challenged her calling to monastic life: „You think God has called you. You think you’re special. [..] You’re nothing. You’re as much use to him as…an unlit candle in the dark” . This was an incredible metaphor  and shows the real power of sister Theodora’s calling from back then until the end. I think this was a genius move and this cemented the foundation of the future mother superior, Mother Theodora.

Mother Theodora’s story is so well written, starting with her as a young girl living with her Irish/Canadian family as Patricia or „Pip” and then her meeting some amazing people like Mr.Wasserman and Tony who changed her life, and how she heard her calling to monastic life twice and the moment she chosethe  monastic life and then her life in the monastery  with all the hard things and sacrfices within it like the poverty vow and the chastity vow and all the tempations along the way. Mother Theodora is a real example for the woman who heard God’s calling and no matter the sacrifices it takes, she will remain faithful to her love for God. I loved how Caren J. Werlinger chose to make her a little justice in the end, it was really unexpected, but perfect.

I loved that Mother Theodora’s story shows her life from when she was young and unexperienced, until she became sister Theodora and Mother Theodora later. The difference of the way she thought and behaved through the years, especially the late years, made me wonder on how life is, how we can make the right choices and how to analyze them later in life. Regrets have no place in her life choices, wheather people understand it or not. She is very special character.

Then, we have Lauren. In the sequel, Lauren is very different from sister Anselma and from the Lauren before the tragedy with Mickey. Sister Anselma is happy living in the monastery for the last twenty years , she discoverd her talent and she was patiently working in the vestement room, she was a leader, a little ice queen, because she kept herself very private until Mickey came around, changed her world, saved her, then threw her in a whole new world outside the monastery and  the happy Lauren with Mickey, until tragedy struck gain.  

How many blows can a human withstand?  

This new Lauren, somehow came back to the private person she used to be in the monastery, she tries to complement her religious side with this whole new human side of her living in her home, the one Mickey built for her , keeping in touch with Mickey’s brother Jamie and her sister in law Jennifer and their children and working as a restaurator of religious vestments for museums or other locations Jennifer helped her with.

I liked the fact that the reader sees Lauren through the other character’s eyes, through Gail’s, Mother Theodora’s or Jennifer’s eyes. She is a really beautiful woman having a blonde and  whillowy figure, dressing in earthy tones with a big heart.  She is like a wonderful wrapped gift ready to be discovered/unpacked by careful hands.

Everyone hopes she will find love again.

Then, Mother Theodara comes into the spotlight without even wanting to. I loved how Gail (an Episcopal priest) was introduced in Lauren’s life through Mother Theodora’s intervention. And, I, also, loved how Mother Theodora found a little justice in the end through Lauren’s and Gail’s help.

There are many amazing moments from this book that stayed with me.

I can’t get out of my head the image from Lauren’s backyard from the foyer where she goes in the mornings with her cat Kyrie and a cup of coffee and listens to the sister’s prayers and songs from her former monestery, St.Bridge’s, it’s absolutely beautiful and it shows her whole personality at peace (her religious persona and her mundane persona).

I adored this book, it made me self conscious, I learned so much about monastic life (a monastery’s schedule and how the nuns prayed in Latin), I cried and I became impressed with the depth of the characters’s thoughs, contracdictions, sorrows,joys and ways of life.

I recommend the readers to read „In This Small Spot” by Caren J. Werlinger first, because there we have Lauren’s earlier story involving Mickey and glimpses of Mother Theodora’s life while all three of them where at St. Bridges monastery.

This book is not a romance, yet it is a remarkable lifestory of two special flawed characters who hold so much beauty inside, no matter what life throws at them. Religion is special in their lives, it’s a part of them and whom they’ll ever will be. This is a book for readers who want to understand monastic life within and outside a contemplative convent and get impressed by the amazing characters mentioned above. This book will change the reader, but you will need to be ready to open up for something very different in lesbian fiction/non-fiction.

I recommend it with all my heart.

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