Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Scent of God

When I discovered Beryl Singleton Bissell's memoir, "The Scent of God", I devoured it, savored it, dog-eared the pages and filled it with yellow highlighting. I only do that with books that speak to my heart and soul. It was a mesmerizing read and I finished it in one day!
There are many kinds of courage, just as there are many kinds of intelligence. Beryl Singleton Bissell's "The Scent of God" is a love story that is as much about courage as it is about love."
The story she tells is simple enough. She is enraptured with the idea of God and God's love so Bissell enters  the convent at age 18. Growing up in a family blighted by her father's alcoholism, Bissell yearned for love so fiercely that the only place she could imagine getting it was from God. The same burning need for love that led her to a cloistered life ultimately led her to renounce it. As a love story, this one is distinctive and compelling. Bissell discovers that love and life are more complicated than they once seemed, so fifteen years later she leaves the convent and the life of a nun. Bissell marries a former priest and enjoys a few years of happiness before his untimely death. 

But above all, I see this appealing memoir as an exploration of courage. It takes courage to choose an unconventional course in life. It takes courage to challenge one's faith. It takes courage to realize that the most solemn vow one has made was a mistake, and then it takes even more courage to admit that error and correct it. It always takes courage to love, especially when the relationship blooms (however improbably) in the context of so many taboos. It also is a story about choices, commitments, faith and love. It is about the choice that Beryl had to make between her calling and an Italian priest who won her heart.

Beryl's memoir is beautifully written, weaving in the rituals of everyday life in the convent with the emotional and spiritual evolution of a young woman who comes to trust herself as well as God.
Note that this book is not just for Catholics. The prose is evocative and well written.  Bissell's writing draws the reader in to see where she was living and the people in her life. The book is a definite must read for anyone who enjoys pictures painted by words and stories of love, courage and faith.

Beryl Singleton Bissell was born in Saddle River, New Jersey, grew up in Puerto Rico, and now lives in Minnesota. She's been a nun, a wife, mother, a widow, a divorcee, and for the past twelve years has been happily married to a man nine years younger than she is.

Bissell's work experience is almost as varied as her personal history. After leaving the monastery, she worked with a set designer in Puerto Rico, spent a year as national coordinator for the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, designed and sold 18-karat gold jewelry, and spent eight years at Milkweed Editions, a non-profit literary press in Minneapolis. In 1996, having returned to school as a single parent, she received her B.A. from Metropolitan State University.

She was named Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors for her memoir, "The Scent of God: A Memoir" and the book was also a "Notable" Book Sense selection for April 2006. Her most recent book, "A View of the Lake," was released June 1, 2011. The Minneapolis Star Tribune named it as one of the Best 2011 Regional books. 

In "View of the Lake" Bissell shares her experiences on Minnesota's Lake Superior North Shore in a collection of essays that follow her journey to find her place in a small northern town.

Meanwhile she is working on her third book, tentatively titled "Looking for Francesca: A Mother's Story" which picks up where "The Scent of God" leaves off and the years leading up to her daughter's unresolved violent death at the age of 24.

For more information on this author go to 

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