Friday Book Pick: Finding Sanctuary: How the Wild Work of Peace Restored the Heart of a Sandy Hook Mother By Jennifer Hubbard
This book was sent to me by mistake. I opened the white bubble-wrap priority mail envelope noticing the return address, and I was pretty sure I knew what the envelope contained. Some months ago, my friend Kelly Wahlquist had asked me to write a blurb for her new book, Called by Name, and I thought this envelope was finally her new book—hot off the press. So, when I got through the bubble-wrap and found instead Finding Sanctuary by Jennifer Hubbard, I was a little surprised. The name was familiar to me from the Magnificat (the monthly periodical with the daily readings for Mass, prayers and meditations). The meditation selections in Magnificat are varied. Some are by Fathers of the Church; by Popes, past and present; canonized saints; and also, contemporary “pilgrims” like Jennifer Hubbard. The brief meditations end with the author’s name and a two or three-sentence biography. The two sentences after Jennifer Hubbard’s name give me pause every time I read them. “Jennifer Hubbard resides in Newtown, Conn. The younger of her two children, Catherine Violet, was a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.” This barren description makes me stop every time. Sometimes I think, “That poor woman, forever labeled according to that incomprehensibly awful event that took the life of her precious child.” Those two sentences have provoked many thoughts in me over the years since her writing first began to appear in Magnificat. They contained all I knew of Jennifer Hubbard.
In the weeks of Easter we try hard to imagine the Resurrection—don’t we? We place ourselves in the garden with Mary when she hears her name uttered by the very Person she is grieving. We imagine the traumatized Apostles huddled in the Upper Room and try to contemplate what it was like the first time they saw Jesus alive again and walking through walls. The Gospel says they were incredulous with joy. It is almost as if a new word for this resurrection joy should be invented because this joy is different. These weeks of Eastertide are about life and the unspeakable joy that banishes grief and about hope eternal. Will you be surprised when I suggest that the new book by Jennifer Hubbard, who “resides in Newtown, Conn. The younger of her two children, Catherine Violet, was a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012” is the perfect Easter book? It really is.
As Fr. Peter Cameron, O.P. says in the forward, it is an “achingly beautiful book.” It is raw. It is honest. It is at moments difficult to read. She writes her story not for the curious readers of tabloids, but rather for the suffering—for the lost. This book is a testimony to the reality of Jesus Christ alive and walking through kitchen walls in suburbia to encounter those who earnestly seek Him.
Jennifer Hubbard recounts step by step the rebuilding of her life. This book is about how she was crushed by suffering and remade. It is about the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about newness—an unimaginable, beyond possibility, newness. Her story begins in darkness with the greatest of sorrows—the death of her precious child—but it leads to the brilliant light of faith and the eternal radiance of hope.
I did not receive this beautiful resurrection book by mistake after all. I can think of several dear friends right off the top of my head who need a ray of light in their darkness, something to grasp onto in the ocean of suffering in which they are immersed, and this book could be a real help to them and to scores of others. Suffering has the capacity to make us wither inside and writhe against God, or it can open us to a profound inflow of grace. The greatness of our Faith is not that it has the capacity to explain away suffering, but rather, that it gives it meaning. Simone Weil put it this way, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it” (as quoted by Fr. Peter Cameron in the forward). No, it was not by mistake, rather by a stroke of Divine Providence, that I should read all that has been missing in the two-line biography of the author, Jennifer Hubbard, who is a living witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and a disciple of hope.
Eastertide happens in the springtime on purpose, and no matter what grief or suffering we carry, the soft green buds on trees and pink and white blossoms tossing their petals to the gentle breeze have a way of drawing our gaze outward to the possibility of hope. This new book is as fresh as the blossoms and promises new life for those who take the path that Jennifer Hubbard took. Rather than collapsing into the darkness she took the way of light—with the One Who is Light itself.
Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!