“Gather the Fragments: My Year of Finding God’s Love.” By Maureen O’Brien. Ohio: Franciscan Media, 2023. 168 pages. Paperback: $16.99; Kindle: $9.99; E-Book: $8.49.

After reading Maureen O’Brien’s newest book, “Gather the Fragments: My Year of Finding God’s Love,” I was not surprised to discover that in addition to prose work, she is also a poet.  The vignettes of which this book is comprised have a poetic quality to them that invite the reader to return to them more than once. Like any good story or poem, the second or third time around can reveal meaning that may not have been that obvious the first time.

The title – and indeed the theme of the entire book – is based on Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes, which can be found in all four Gospels and twice in Matthew and Mark. In each of these stories, not only are people completely and thoroughly fed, but there is an abundance left over.

For the author, a year of meditating on these three words – gather the fragments – wrought a miracle of its own within her. In all of the experiences that she recounts in the book, there are seeming “fragments” of God and His miracles everywhere; taken together, they are revealed to be an abundance of grace and love, indeed, more than enough to feed everyone. “I believe that if we find and feel the wonder it redefines the broken world.” O’Brien writes. “Yes, a broken world of inescapable sorrow, despair, and horror, but also a world bursting with possibility and grace if we see that we’re given not just what we need, but maybe even more.”

O’Brien’s story has many harsh moments, what she refers to as “shards.”

“I began drinking at thirteen,” she writes very candidly. “I spent the following nine years in a haze of self-loathing, nakedness, wandering and blackouts.” It was in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut, at the age of 22 that the epiphany came. With a filet-o-fish sandwich in her lap – the only thing she could afford – she contemplated suicide. Then, something happened. “It wasn’t a voice that came to me: It was words like on an electronic marquee. The letters went gliding, made of golden, bare light bulbs. The words that moved right to left read, ‘There’s something more.’”

The next morning she began searching for a therapist. It was the beginning of a very long journey back to the place that God wanted her to be. “In order to keep the darkness at bay,” she says, “I have turned to God for thirty-nine years. … I have fallen in love with the light. All the light. I want to stay in it. I don’t ever want to leave it.”

That does not mean that life from that point on was sweetness and light for her; she suffered through a divorce and a bout with cancer. But throughout she was buoyed by the realization that God not only feeds us, but there are fragments of His care everywhere we look. “There is no map that shows the delineation between the ordinary and the sacred,” she writes near the end of the book. “Because it’s all one. The Divine is everywhere. The spots we wrongly conclude are just temporal are temples. I know firsthand what it is to be found in the cathedral of McDonald’s golden arches.”

The vignettes are meditations on St. Therese of Lisieux (“To find St. Therese is opening a door into a dwelling filled with all sorts of other doors that await”) and the Blessed Mother (“How many Marys does it take?” she asks a friend, who replies, “However many Marys you need.”) They culminate in the last section of the book entitled “The Gathering.”

This is a book of hope and an encouragement in a time when everything seems to be falling apart. It is recommended reading, a few times a year.

Author bio:

Maureen O’Brien is the author of the spiritual memoir “What Was Lost: Seeking Refuge in the Psalms” and is a contributor to St. Anthony Messenger magazine. She has also published a novel, “B-mother” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and “The Other Cradling,” a chapbook of poems (Finishing Line Press). Her award-winning short stories and poems have been published widely in magazine and anthologies.

She lives in Connecticut where she taught creative writing to teenagers for 25 years.