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Book Review "River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times" By Susan Bailey.

One of the first things that attracted me to this book was the fact that it involved both hard times and a kayak.  I have a friend who has known both; more than 20 years ago, her youngest son was permanently paralyzed as the result of a hockey accident.  In the intervening years, as he and every member of his family has had to come to grips with the enormity of what  happened and how radically it changed their lives, my friend discovered that some of her spiritual healing came in the form of a kayak.  Even now, she tells me, there is such peace that comes from sitting quietly on the river, letting God’s spirit wash over her.

Indeed, the subtitle of the first chapter of “River of Grace” could have been written by my friend.  It simply states, “What God Taught Me through My Kayak” and for author Susan Bailey, it was also this simple boat that signaled the beginning of a profound and unexpected journey into the heart of God. 

This book has many pluses to recommend it.  To begin with, it is a highly personal memoir, written in a tone which allows the reader to walk with the author as she essentially goes on a spiritual pilgrimage.  Like any such journey, this one will take her from a place of darkness, confusion and near despair, into the presence of light, peace and the authentic self God was calling her to be.  It also opens her to God’s presence in ways and places she never expected.  “I grew up thinking that grace came from a church building, granted by a priest during a formal gathering such as the Mass,” she says.  “It never occurred to me that it could come from elsewhere, especially something as mundane as a boat.”

Bailey deals with life events that most readers can relate to:  the death of both her parents, a near financial disaster for her and her husband, the loss – happily temporary – of an ability that she thought she would have forever and as such, took for granted, and a significant change in her husband’s spiritual life that reverberated through the whole family.  The fact that she presents her reactions to these things truthfully, without any pious sugar-coating, makes this a genuine and honest work.  Because of that, the insights and advice she shares about how to be open to God’s grace are genuine and honest as well.

In addition to the elements of memoir, the book can also serve as a kind of retreat.  Each chapter contains both questions for the reader to reflect on – through journaling, if he or she is comfortable with that – as well as what the author calls “Flow Lessons” – practices toward grace which are more tactile in nature.  The author also references her web site, www.beasone.org, for further resources, videos, and “flow lessons.”  Not every reader will necessarily be comfortable with or want to do every activity she suggests, but the book works whether all or some of the practices are followed – or if the reader chooses to read and reflect on Bailey’s words alone.

 The only criticism I have with this book – and it is a minor one compared to the positives of the whole – is that it sometimes seems repetitious.  I occasionally caught myself thinking that I had read nearly the same thought in a previous chapter; but perhaps that is to be expected, as these same lessons of grace go deeper and deeper as one progresses to the close of the book.  And in the end, that is what this journey has been about.  “That invitation to go deeper is the call of grace,” Bailey concludes.  “When we obey that call, we agree to let God be our guide.”

"River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times"  By Susan Bailey,  Indiana:  Ave Maria Press, 2015.  193 pages.  Paperback: $14.12, Kindle and Nook: $10.49
 

About the Author

Susan Bailey wears many hats.  She is a marketing/advertising assistant for a local real estate firm in her area, but she is also very active in the Church as a writer, speaker and musician. 

In addition to having written several books,  Bailey hosts her own blogs, which can be found at louisamayalcottismypassion.com and beasone.org. She is also a frequent contributor to CatholicMom.com and the Association of Catholic Women Bloggers.   Her monthly column, “Be As One,” appears in the Catholic Free Press, the diocesan paper of the Diocese of Worcester, Mass.  Currently, she is an associate member of the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester, for which she has previously served as both chairperson and secretary. 

A professional musician and graphic artist, Bailey released three CD’s and has performed on EWTN, CatholicTV and at World Youth Day in 2002.  She has served as a cantor at St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough, Mass., for more than 15 years.

Bailey is a graduate of Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, with concentrations in U.S. history and music.  She and her husband, Rich, have two grown children and currently reside in North Grafton, Mass.
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