Book Review: "Glimmers of Grace" by Faith Hakesley
When Faith Hakesley messaged me to ask if I would read and review her new book, Glimmers of Grace: Moments of Peace and Healing Following Sexual Abuse, I jumped at the chance. Faith was one of the first survivors who found In Spirit and Truth when I was just getting started, and she messaged me with words of gratitude and support for my work. At a time when I was just beginning on this path and felt unsure whether I was taking the right steps, those words meant a lot to me. Over the last year, I have been following her journey to publication and looking forward to reading the book that she had poured her heart into.
However, as soon as I accepted her invitation, I felt a moment of panic: What if the book was terrible? What would I say? How could I be honest without being hurtful? I tend to be a rather critical reader, which is tricky when you’re very aware of the humanity of the author.
Well, I am happy to say that Glimmers of Grace is a lovely book. I am glad to be able to write a review and tell you more about it. However, I am not an abuse survivor myself, so my hope is simply to lay out some observations and let survivors decide for themselves if this book might be helpful to them.
What To Expect:
Glimmers of Grace is published by Our Sunday Visitor and is available for purchase here.
The book is about 170 pages long, with simple prose that makes it a fairly quick read if you’re not pausing between chapters. Faith recommends a more reflective approach, reading one chapter at a time and then using the exercises and questions at the end of each chapter for reflection.
The book is divided up into three main sections: Finding Grace, Finding Healing, and Finding Freedom, with chapters on topics like acceptance, truth, self-compassion, courage, and peace.
In the introduction, Faith lays out four hopes she has for survivors reading this book. Her message directly to those survivors give you a good sense of the gentle, hopeful tone and intent of the book: “First and foremost, I want you to know that you are not alone... Second, no matter where you are in your journey, I want to help you find freedom from the chains that bind you and recognize the gifts that Our Lord is offering you. Third, I want to help each one of you to find your voice and help validate the reality of your experiences, no matter how different they may be from mind. Fourth, I want to encourage you to seek out and accept help when you are ready" (page 13).
If you would like to read a little more from Faith Hakesley, you can follow her blog at www.faithhakesley.com/blog.
Things I Appreciated:
Glimmers of Grace does an excellent job of recognizing and validating a whole range of emotions survivors might experience, from anger and pain to shame and fear. I have heard from numerous victim-survivors that they often feel isolated and misunderstood, and I hope reading Faith’s words might make some people feel a little less alone.
While the main focus of this book is emotional and spiritual healing, Faith acknowledges the important role of therapy, self-care, and physical health in a person’s healing journey. The “One Small Step” feature in each chapter includes suggestions for exercise, sleep, connecting with nature, and many other practical tips for holistic wellness, while the encouragement to seek help from mental health professionals runs throughout the book.
Faith gently calls her readers towards greater virtue, even in the midst of suffering and trauma. For example, in the chapter on kindness, she tells survivors that they deserve kindness and support from the people around them, but also challenges survivors to treat others with kindness, rather than with anger or resentment. I realize not every survivor will be interested in this kind of challenge; however, I do know some survivors whose deep faith pushes them to ask what holiness might look like in their particular situation. I think Faith’s reflections might be helpful in that quest.
While not shying away from the very real long-term suffering that comes from sexual abuse, the overall tone of the book is refreshingly hopeful. Even for me, as someone not directly impacted by sexual abuse, it was comforting to read Faith’s gentle words of encouragement: “It does get better” and later, “Your story is a story of hope” (pages 82, 89).
While Faith’s words are often addressed directly to survivors, I think that those who are trying to love and support someone who has experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church could also benefit from reading and reflecting on this book. Whenever a survivor chooses to reveal her heart in such an honest and vulnerable way, it is a gift and an opportunity for all of us who are seeking to understand.
Every survivor is a unique human being, on their own unique journey to healing. This might seem to be an obvious fact, but I think it’s really important to remember here. To me, this means that there is no single approach that will work for every survivor, and no book, no matter how well-written or well-intentioned, is going to be helpful to everyone. In fact, the same book that one person might find comforting and encouraging might fall totally flat with someone else. As I was reading Glimmers of Grace, I was picturing a small number of survivors that I know on a deeper level. I thought of a few people that I believe would really love this book and get a lot out of it, as well as a few that I think would roll their eyes at the whole thing. I don’t believe there is any book you could write that would helpful to all of them, and I think that’s ok. All of us who aim to support survivors can only do our best, offer what we can, and trust that others will step in when our own efforts aren’t connecting.
On that note, there is one particular area where I think this book might fall short in connecting with some survivors. When Faith talks about the aftermath of coming forward about her sexual assault, she mentions that some parishioners did not believe her story and stood up in support of her parish priest instead. However, for the most part, Faith seems to have been believed and supported by many good people every step along the way, and, as I understand it, her abuser was ultimately brought to justice under both criminal and canonical law. She even had the opportunity meet Pope Benedict XVI and receive his blessing. Oh, how I wish that every survivor had those same experiences of justice and support from the Church! Instead, I know many survivors who have had their abuse dismissed, disbelieved, minimized, or covered up by the Catholic Church - from their bishops down to their fellow parishioners. I know survivors whose rapists are still in active ministry, who were brought to tears by the callous treatment of diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinators, and who have been treated as enemies by their bishops and diocesan officials. Many survivors say that they have suffered more from their mistreatment by the Church than from the abuse itself. For these men and women, I wonder if it might feel like something is missing from this book, as the focus is on healing from the wounds of abuse, not grappling with the wounds that continue to be inflicted even after the abuse has ended.
Even with these limitations in mind, I found Glimmers of Grace to be gentle, hopeful, and wise. If that sounds like what you are looking for right now, I would recommend you give it a try.
As always, I end this blog post with a prayer:
Lord, thank you for Faith Hakesley and the beautiful gift of her courage, vulnerability, and faith. Please use her book to help those who are suffering, and continue to give Faith your guidance and strength for her own ongoing journey of healing.