I receive many, many book review requests these days. Sadly, too often I have to decline these chances to personally meet and share beautiful books with you. Blessedly, I recently found time in my own writing schedule to enjoy the fascinating book she: robed and wordless by Sister Lou Ella Hickman of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament. Please let me apologize up front for my lack of poetry expertise. I didn’t come to Sister Lou Ella’s work with much knowledge of what makes such work exceptional. I simply sat and savored Sister’s verses, loving how they brought scriptural women to life in my heart.
Today, I’m happy to share my recent conversation with Sister Lou Ella. I hope you’ll pause in your own busyness and savor she: robed and wordless for yourself!
Q: Welcome to CatholicMom.com Sister Lou Ella! Please introduce us and your community to our readers.
I am a member of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament. Jeanne de Matel, our foundress, established the order over four hundred years ago in France. Our main focus is to make the Incarnate Word known and loved. We do this primarily as educators. As my community developed and grew, we responded to the needs of the time and now a number of sisters educate through other ministries such as parish work.
I entered in the 1970 and finished my education as a teacher. I have been involved in various ministries as well as teaching on all levels. This included library work, parish ministry and a number of years in religious retail. I am now a certified spiritual director as well as a freelance writer and poet.
Q: Before we turn to your gifts as a writer, I would love to know more about what inspired your vocation. Can you share a bit of that story?
Part of my vocation story is my conversion. I entered the Church right after my junior year in high school. I was a Methodist and I took my faith seriously. My discovery of the Eucharist became a turning point in my decision to become Catholic. During my senior year, I became friends with a Sister of Mercy. I realized I, too, could become a friend as she was to me and that started my journey to religious life.
Q: How did you begin writing? Why do you love doing it?
I began writing poetry in the eighth grade but it wasn’t until some years after I entered the convent I began sending out my work and getting published. I taught high school English for several years and it was thanks to my students that I began writing articles. I realized if I could teach my students to write well then what was keeping me from writing prose? Some three hundred articles later . . .
I write because I have to. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t love what I do. I suppose that is the reason behind my passion. On the flip side, sometimes when I get bogged down as I write, I remind myself I am making it too hard. “Lou, remember, you are getting paid to have fun.”
Q: Your wonderful book she: robed and wordless combines your passion for your faith, scripture and your gifts as a poet. How would you describe this book to our readers?
Oh, my. Describe it? They are “my ladies.” Each one is a person in her own right.
Q: What inspired the stories that you tell in this work? How did you select the women you included?
I think the foundation of my book arose out of my Methodist background with its love of the Bible. I began writing the poems some thirty years ago. When I had written some twenty or so I sent the manuscript to various publishers. I didn’t know at the time I needed more in order to publish a book. So, after several rejections, I put the poems away as a group. However, I did have them published individually in various magazines.
Tom Lombardo accepted my poem “Missing” for his anthology After Shocks: The Poetry of Recover for Life-Shattering Events. Several weeks after its release, I made a courtesy phone call. During our conversation he became interested in the original manuscript which I sent him. Another phone call and a request for fifty to sixty more poems. This launched me into months of research which turned into “clicks” of ideas. I would read and reread Scripture texts so I could find clues in the storyline. I learned to ask myself questions like “What kind of woman would have married the father of the prodigal son?” In a sense, my research became a religious quest. Years ago, one of my graduate theology professors commented in class that what is missing is as important as what is present. The course was on parables and the comment helped me to be more sensitive to the missing women in each story. Basically there was no rhyme or reason for the selection of the various women. Inspiration came with the hard work.
Q: I have been praying with this book – I find that reading it moves me not only to dream of the portraits you paint, but also to linger in scripture. Was this your intent?
Yes, very much so. I hope readers will go back to the Scriptures with fresh eyes. The Notes section in the back gives the Biblical citations for each poem. The reader can refer to it especially since some of the women like Rizaph are not well-known. I hope even women of no faith can relate to these women and with God’s grace they can come to faith.
Q: Please say a few words about the connection between the page and prayer – how poetry or literature can illuminate one’s spiritual life.
While God is not specifically mentioned in many of the poems, He is there. I have taught adult classes on prayer and I am also a spiritual director which means prayer connections are important to me. One thing I stress in both situations is that prayer is more than “lifting up the heart and mind to God” important as that is. I encourage my students and directees to find God in everything. One directee is interested in learning to fly a plane. He had no idea flying could be a spiritual experience until I told him about the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Q: Where can our readers purchase your book and learn more about your writing?
There are several ways your readers can obtain the book. Contact me directly. My convent address is 5201 Lipes Blvd. Corpus Christi, Texas 78413. The price is $20 which includes tax and shipping. (Make the check payable to the Sisters of the Incarnate Word) Contact the publisher, Kevin Watson at Press 53. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Also consider purchasing it through a religious goods store if there is one in the area. The bookstore can order it through Ingram.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
First, thank you for allowing me to share “my ladies” with your readers. I hope these women of Scripture will take your readers on a great adventure; one similar to what I had in learning to listen for their voices.
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Copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey