Reviewed by Carol Dixon
Karen Karper Fredette’s latest book is Where God Is Ever Found, From Cloister to Couple, A Woman’s Autumn Journey. Her previous books include Clare: Her Light and Song, a biography of Saint Clare, and Where God Begins to Be, A Journey into Solitude, about Karen’s hermit life. With her husband, (2011). In 2012, Consider the Ravens earned a bronze medal in the Religion category in the IPPY Awards, a competition for self-published books.
A memoir, Where God Is Ever Found is the story of transitions that began when Karen entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration Monastery when she was seventeen. Thirty years later she followed another calling to Colt Run Holler in West Virginia where, outside monastic walls, she lived as a hermit for six years. Now she and her husband, a former Catholic priest, daily create their own sanctuary, Still Wood, on the side of a mountain in Madison County, North Carolina.
The red-haired teenage girl of stubborn German stock—the one who’d turned down a Merit Scholarship for cloistered life—became both “the chicken and the egg of discord” in a monastic environment that expected unquestioning silence and conformity. The day she kissed her parents goodbye and crossed the threshold into the Enclosure, she was expected to leave behind whom she’d been, to sit for hours on backless stools in the ever-presence of other Poor Clares and to quash her own thoughts, emotions, creativity and independence. Her long red hair shorn and wearing a crown of thorns and a white bridal gown, a year later she became the Bride of Christ. She vowed a commitment to God that “I never revoked despite some unexpected ‘switch-ups’ in later years.” Who Karen was couldn’t be suppressed. She could pray and scrub floors and she could write poetry, prose and essays and hide her thoughts and practice denial.
As a religious hermit outside the monastery thirty years later, Karen discovered the world beyond the walls had grown noisy with social, racial, gender and political unrest. And she discovered herself, a forty-seven-year-old woman very much in need of “growing up and catching up” socially, emotionally and spiritually. And so she did in a rundown cabin in West Virginia’s Colt Run Holler. Chopping wood, managing a bank account and surviving the elements alone were small issues next to the challenges she faced when Father Paul offered her a job in his parish office. How would she continue her love of God in the presence of a growing love for Father Paul? Would she have to compromise her life-long hope of “living so transparent to Love that nothing and no one could shake my peace”? She was shaken and troubled.
On the surface Karen’s story is unusual, yet each page rings with familiar human-spiritual themes. With a masterful writer’s pen, Karen shares secrets of cloistered life, first-date embarrassment, pride of engagement, the curious case of a quilt gremlin, wrecked car shame and the usual marital challenges enhanced by the age and history of two unusual lovers.
What we learn in Where God Is Ever Found is that, like Abraham, Karen followed a command she believed was of God to leave places she temporarily called home to go to places of contradiction. She learned patience while she learned “what next” in her adventure.
Where God is Ever Found is available at Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville, N.C. and on-line at RavensBreadMinistries.com.