I wrote about a strange pair of women who have been heroes to me. One still is a hero: Dorothy Day. The other, Grace Slick, not so much.
But here’s maybe a stranger pairing: Kathryn Harrison (left) and Joan of Arc. This morning’s on-line New York Times carries an op-ed piece by Kathryn on Joan, who was born 600 years ago.
Yeah, I get why the piece is there: Harrison is working on a bio of the saint who led the French army to victory. But Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, this is the same Harrison whose book covers scream SEX; the same Harrison who has been tapped to write forewords to three books, The Scarlet Letter, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and Becoming a Man, a gay coming-out story; yes, even the same Harrison who wrote a memoir, The Kiss, about her love affair with her . . . father.
Oddly, though, Harrison has also written a short biography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. And but wait—has she really also written The Road to Santiago, about The Way of St. James? What is going on here?
My cynical eye scanned the J of A write-up, and while it is clear that Harrison had to dumb Joan down—secularize her—for the pages of the Times, it also seems clear that Harrison has encountered something. She writes and I nod in agreement—
Joan frustrates efforts to reduce her to mortal proportions. What can
explain what her voices told her, whether directing her movements in
battle or scripting answers to her inquisitors? And what about her
reputed clairvoyance, accounts that her touch raised a child from the
dead, her ability to direct the wind to fill her stalled boats’ sails?
We don’t need narratives that rationalize human experience so much as those that enlarge it with the breath of mystery.
The op-ed piece did its clever business with me. Because I am walking the Camino de Santiago in May with my daughter, I have ordered Harrison’s Road (though not her Kiss), and I will certainly read her new biography of Joan of Arc—a Catholic saint who has most astonished me too.