Smiles of God
The Flowers of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
ISBN 0 86012 349 9
Burns & Oates, London, New York 2003, £10.99
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed September 2004; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2004
It is rumoured that a book on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux appears every month. Most of these books necessarily cover the same ground: her childhood, her monastic life, her teaching and her miracles. There is an astonishing variety in these books; no two authors see Thérèse in exactly the same light. Some, indeed, border on the sycophantic, others on the condescending or even contemptuous. Yet all are evidently fascinated by Thérèse, the obscure bourgeoise who conquered the whole world, the little girl who became 'the greatest saint of modern times'.
Smiles of God is perhaps the most original 'Thérèse book' yet. Its title is taken from a poem by Thérèse in which she claims that "a flower is a smile of God, a distant echo of heaven". Felicity Leng traces the floral motif in Thérèse's life with a wealth of detail and fine drawings of the most frequently mentioned flowers. While Thérèse and her flowers are the main subjects under discussion, there are also references to floral imagery in other saints and an interesting account of the rosary. Some of Thérèse's 'shower of roses' - the miracles attributed to her intercession - conclude the book.
This is an appealing work, meticulously researched and lovingly written. Not only does it shed new light on Thérèse and her thought patterns, but it also presents this often sentimentalized saint in a clear and robust manner. Instead of the sugary saint of so much popular devotion, here we have a young woman of intelligence, originality and courage, the one whom Chesterton so memorably dubbed 'the Little Flower of wrought iron'.
Susan Elisabeth OSC
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