Research is great answers when life is painful and confusing. Yet life is lit up with bright moments of grace when bonds are forged between unlikely friends in “Little Hours: A Novel,” written by Lil Copan. (One Bird Books, June 2021, $18.99, 323 pages.)
A fictional Catholic monastery is set in Weymouth where Sister Athanasius, a nun, writes regularly to her new pen pal Miriam, a working married mother of two teenagers. The exchange is triggered when Miriam sends two questions: “Is there really ornithology at the monastery? And what should I do with my husband?
Thus begins a year-long correspondence from the point of view of Sister Athanase, who introduces Miriam to the “Bings”, the sisters of Saint Hildegard of Bingen.
Why did the author set up the convent at Weymouth? An excerpt from Sister Athanase’s letter to Miriam is perhaps revealing:
“Earlier I was thinking how interesting it is that we share a common state with the very long name, Massachusetts. You near Quabbin, we in Weymouth on the South Shore. Do you know our spit of land was once an ammunition bunker Now it’s answering nature’s call to return to its original shape, with sumac bushes, meadow grasses, pines claiming a appropriate place near the shore, as if as soon as he could, the earth was transformed from a sword into a ploughshare. “
The Convent characters are Sister Anne, an avid Red Sox fan; Sister Patrick Gertrude, a neat freak constantly at odds with Sister Farm, a nature and animal lover who stalks the mud in the convent; Little Sister, the baker; Sister Bird, who reports winged sightings; and Mother Lourdes, the prioress, who turns all the plates. Sister Athanase reveals herself as well as monastic life as comic and touching. Her wisdom was born of solitude and observation, which are enviable and absent aspects of Miriam’s modern life.
In a letter, Sister Athanasius writes of the hard work of personal change:
“Sister Anne once told me that every ten years or so we redefine our lives. We have to study them and review them, then shake them up. And if we don’t, she says, don’t worry: sickness or loss or fear or something would sneak up there and shake it for us. And then either you say yes, let it shake, or no, I want it to go on like this.” ‘never insist, she says, on keeping the old way if you haven’t tried the new one. She was like that. From the outside, it looked like she had been living the same life as a nun for over 50 years, but she reinvented her life as a person, creatively and intuitively. And I witnessed the revival.
“Little Hours” is a 2022 Gold Winner of the Nautilus Book Awards (Fiction) and a 2022 Finalist of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards (Regional Fiction).
First-time novelist Lil Copan, 57, lived in Dorchester for 16 years and now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His father was pastor of a Slavic Christian church of Anabaptist tradition in Ohio.
However, the story features Catholic nuns because Copan is fascinated by religious practices.
“I come from a community that has very few rituals along these lines and I was drawn to the small hours of prayer and what it means and what it may contain,” she said.
“To me, many of the great spiritual people, the contemplatives, the mystics, the people who did deep spiritual work in the larger Christian tradition were Catholics.”
The title, “Petites Heures”, refers to monastic prayer rituals.
“There are times that look a bit like the high prayer times of the day, and then there are times that not everyone observes; the interstitial hours, where the small aspects of life and prayer are lived and prayed over,” Copan said.
A growing friendship between a nun and a modern married woman takes root, but it is the reader who blossoms from the grace and kindness of Sister A.
The bright side
Hope and Healing:After 9 missions in Haiti, the South Shore brothers “can’t wait to go back”
Strictly speaking:Braintree man with Asperger’s syndrome finds his voice in Quincy Toastmasters
To celebrate:Asia-Pacific American Heritage Month is a chance for all of us to learn
‘I have to pinch myself again’:South Shore singer gets her Hollywood moment in ‘CODA’
Coronation:South Shore girl wins beauty pageant in dresses designed by her mother
Overall Grooves:Abington teenager shows off his Hindu classical dance prowess
Milton resident Suzette Martinez Standring writes Bright Side, a good news column with information about the South Shore and the people who live there. If you have an idea for a future column, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit www.readsuzette.com.
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