It’s Good to Be Here by Christina Chase (Sophia Press, 2019)
Christina Chase’s book “It’s Good to Be Here” is as straightforward and challenging as the subtitle promises: “a disabled woman’s reflections on God in the flesh and the sacred wonder of being human.” This is not a book for the bedside pile, to be picked up at odd moments. I tried that, but “It’s Good to Be Here” demanded more from me. Chase drew me into sharing her reflections, not just observing them. Each chapter provoked thought as well as prayer.
The declaration “it’s good to be here” is strong stuff, coming from a woman living with physical challenges in a culture that devalues disability. Fortunately for herself and her readers, Chase doesn’t look to culture for validation. “When we think of living divine lives in a sanctified place, we may think of a world with no imperfections…[n]o suffering. However, that is not the definition of a sanctified place, of a holy place in which God dwells. For Christ dwelt here.”
This is neither a memoir nor a how-to manual for dealing with adversity. The book jacket calls Chase a “twenty-first century Thérèse of Lisieux,” and while the comparison is apt in some respects – chronic illness, profound faith in God, appreciation of The Little Way – Chase’s voice is very much her own. As I pondered her words, I felt as though I were with a down-to-earth mystic filled with warm good humor (though not flippancy).
Take time with this book. Haste will not do it justice.
I suspect Dorothy Day would have winced at the word “legendary” in the subtitle assigned to her memoir: the autobiography of the legendary Catholic social activist. Humility informs every page of The Long Loneliness. So does clear and inviting prose, a testament to Day’s experience as a journalist. She was a 20th-century treasure.
Up until now, Dorothy Day has been to me the subject of magazine articles and other people’s blog posts, some quite critical (not that criticism was likely to deter her). Picking up Day’s 1952 memoir was a revelation to me.
In an informal style, Mr. Agnesi shares small stories exploring painful situations and ways of responding to them. He is writing for a Christian audience, assuming that his readers have some familiarity with both faith and disappointment. He knows that Martha’s words to Christ in time of bereavement – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” – reflect a deeply human reaction to loss. Where to from there?
One step at a time, responds Mr. Agnesi. He has confidence that in small ways, a day at a time, anyone experiencing major or minor miseries can be equipped for ministry to others. His words might not reach someone in the grip of immediate and profound grief, when looking ahead seems like too much to bear. For anyone capable of reflection, though, Turning Your Misery Into Ministry can be thought-provoking and inspiring.
Small Steps: A Path to Service
The author’s own experience with serious illness makes this a book written for other people, not at them. His descriptions of the ministries in which he’s personally involved enrich the book. His message on every page is I can do this; so can you.
The actions he advises seem obvious, but it’s precisely when challenges are oppressive that solutions are obscured. Pray, even briefly; look a stranger in the eye and say hello; give the gift of listening; do simple things for one’s spouse: page after page is filled with reminders of the little things that draw one’s attention outward, discouraging self-absorption.
That’s not to say he advises forgetting about self-care. He knows that he and his readers need healing and grace and time for themselves.
Grace in the Virtues
Virtues in action are basically habits developed over time. Mr. Agnesi packs his small book with short suggestions for ways to develop those habits. His book concludes with a section called “Grace in the Virtues,” which may seem an odd subject to consider when dealing with miseries large and small. After all that precedes the closing section, though, his reflections on grace and virtue make sense.
Each little step he advises is underpinned with encouragement towards the simple virtues of gratitude and humility. Without them, no one can be equipped for ministry. No formal training or credential can replace them. With them, anyone can begin to offer authentic service to others. Wherever authentic service exists, there is ministry.
Turning Your Misery Into Ministry ends with an exhortation to be passionate, unafraid, and joyful. With the voice of a neighbor, Tony Agnesi invites his readers to join him.
(Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for a review.)