Book Notice: A Gathering of Larks

Abigail Carroll
A Gathering of Larks: Letters to St Francis from a Modern-day Pilgrim
Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2017
Available at Amazon.com

Reviewed by Felicity Clift

Dear Friend of the Wild, Dear Lord of the Revels, Dear Wounded Saint, Dear Francis…

Francis of Assisi, the famous saint, is the imaginary recipient of this collection of letters from Abigail Carroll titled, A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-day Pilgrim.

Indeed, this collection is a little pilgrimage: starting with an introduction to the life of Franceso Bernadone, reflecting and provoking reflection on his life of simplicity and peace, highlighting parallels between his choices and ours, and closing with suggested questions to move the reader in spirit and action.

At first Abigail Carroll’s questions to St Francis appear frivolous, individual and, perhaps, unworthy of our time, yet it is these very factors that make this a worthwhile read. As Carroll takes the time to note, it is our tendency today to be ‘rendered numb for hours on end’ by computer screens (p.50), ‘decoupled from nature’ (p.51), trying desperately to defend our possessions (p.37), but in this book Carroll holds before us the picture of a man who walked away from worldly possessions, who embraced lepers, who chose the plain brown of larks over the rich materials of his family, who sought peace, and in this man, we are made to reflect on our own choices.

What motivated Francis to live such an extreme life? What sustained him?  These questions are asked through a diversity of subjects, both flippant and serious – art, war, tiny homes, sunrises, personal independence, death –  and through these questions she voices questions which should be our own – are my possessions my security? Is dependence on others as terrible as we sometimes think? What would we give to help another? To make peace? And how important is it to have a functioning showerhead?

I personally found the poetic layout confusing at first, being unfamiliar with this style of writing. However, in content, these letters encourage consideration of what may be learnt from the lives of the faithful across history in a way that is contemporary and open. This book is quite brief, making it relatively easy to read. This is a good book for a quiet moment.

Flyck Clift is undertaking theological studies at Ridley College in Melbourne after nursing helped her identify her interest in promoting spiritual health as well as physical health.

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