Saint Therese and the Speckled Toadstool

Saint Therese and the Speckled Toadstool October 2, 2016

It took quite awhile, but she did.

I did not blossom from an awkward youth into a comely young princess, as always seems to happen in novels; my mother never became satisfied with me, and we never reached an understanding. There was no moment when the ugly duckling became a swan, and all her former detractors treated her with respect. Of all the stories my fairy tales taught me, that was the only one that proved to be pure escapist fantasy. I only grew into an older awkward woman who liked to wander the woods, looking for dryads and wishing I could talk to wolves.

I didn’t find a portal to Narnia, but I found a way to a different realm, a very different world to the one I’d grown up in. I separated myself from my family, and I found my way to the Byzantine Catholic church. I took to it instantly; the icons, the chant, the beauty of the liturgy overwhelmed me. I felt at home. I felt like a flower in the garden of the Lord, and not an ugly flower at that. Or maybe I was still just a speckled toadstool, but I was in a place where speckled toadstools are welcome and allowed to sing, and that was all right.

The first time we went to the Byzantine Catholic Church, I was thinking with disappointment that I wished I could change my name to an Eastern saint’s name and get Chrismated again.  I wanted to be done with my whole past; I didn’t want to be a Therese or a Joan of Arc, a Francis or a Margaret. I wanted to be Olga or Macrina or Vasilisa. Vasilisa is a name from fairy tales, too. It would be perfect for me.

But in my new church, I found a stained glass window near the pew I slid into that very first liturgy. To the left, it portrays Saint Basil, staring very blank and stylized like an icon; to the right, saint Saint Nicholas. In the center, clutching a crucifix and a bouquet, staring blankly and stylized like an icon, was a Carmelite nun. The inscription below her icon is the common American misspelling of her name– our name. “Saint Theresa.”

A few liturgies later, I found a holy card discarded on the table near the foyer, a Western painting of Saint Therese holding a rainbow bouquet. When I went outside, I found a rose in one of the bushes behind the church. It wasn’t a rosebush. It was an ordinary, scrubby ornamental yew bush in need of a trim. And there weren’t any roses growing nearby. But somehow, there was a freshly plucked bright red tea rose sitting in a yew bush near my eye level as I left my new church.

My confirmation saint found me a portal to Narnia.

My name is Therese of Lisieux.




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