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Review: Rebecca Reynolds’ Courage, Dear Heart

I’m a slow reader, and it’s rare that a writer comes along with a voice so captivating that I can’t stop reading. I finished this one in less than 24 hours (a real feat for me), and I’m just about to slip it onto my shelf of favorites right in between what I consider its spiritual forebears: Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb.

Allow me to start by commending to you Rebecca Reynold’s facility with language. The book is filled with sentences that make this editor’s heart sing. The writing is vibrant and earthy with a keen eye for the telling detail. And like Annie Dillard, Reynolds uses her images to weave tapestries of meaning that loop and swirl and dance on the page as they illuminate her subjects.

Courage, Dear Heart is presented as a series of nine letters written to those in the midst of abuse, disillusionment, doubt, and pain. And this format gives Reynolds leeway to engage her substantial powers of empathy. Such intimate powers coupled with her gift of language come together to create a work of incredible insight, beauty, thought, and grace. And those qualities are dearly needed because on every page she grapples with monumental powers of darkness. She’s forging for the wounded of the world a shield against the problem of evil, the spiral of loneliness, the cataract of suffering, and the temptation of doubt. The book is nothing less than a battlement erected against the enemy’s advance into our homes and hearts. Yet it’s not an apologetic. It’s an act of love.

I’ve always known Rebecca Reynolds had a book in her. She’s one of the best writers I know, and also one of the best thinkers, and one of the most caring people. I know these things because over the years I’ve butted heads with her from time to time and I’ve always ended up wiser for the bruises, no matter who came out on top. And I also know this book cost her a lot to write. Maybe that’s part of what makes it so good. After all, a book or a painting or a poem that doesn’t cost the artist much, doesn’t ask much of its audience. But Courage, Dear Heart, asks a great deal. It asks us to pay attention, not to the writer, but to her Source. It asks us to let ourselves open up and be loved by a writer and her gifts in a way that may make us uncomfortable at times, but will not leave us alone in the dark. It asks us to follow its pages through darkness and pain in search of the bright dawn of hope.

As the book wound down to its final page, I found myself enjoying the kind of breathless wonder that only a few other books have given me—books like Godric, or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, or The Supper of the Lamb, or A Severe Mercy. And this is how a great writer best loves her reader: the wonder she stirs in us is less about the written work, and more about the right and true things toward which her gifts leave us oriented.

Until I cracked it open, I didn’t know I needed this book. But I did. Read it and then give a copy to someone you know. They need it, too. We all do.


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