“PRACTICALLY DIVINE” by Becca Stevens (Harper Horizon, 224 pages, $ 28).
In âPractically Divine,â social entrepreneur and episcopal priest Becca Stevens, a graduate of the University of the South in Sewanee, explores how the wisdom of women opens up space for love to grow even after trauma. 25 years ago, Stevens founded Thistle Farms as a residential community and cottage industry for survivors of trafficking in Nashville. Since then, she has founded 10 justice organizations and helped raise $ 58 million to lift women out of poverty and trauma. Thistle Farms has grown into a global movement for women’s freedom, with 500 free beds for survivors and 1,800 artisans from Nepal and India to Rwanda and Mexico contributing to its market. She responded to the questions in Chapter 16 by email.
Q: Why did you title the book âVirtually Divineâ?
A: I can see the words “practically divine” looking good on a T-shirt. I love when I can see headlines stand tall and conjure up ideas and visions. I named the book “Virtually Divine” because I fell in love with the concept. It means, in a sense, both almost divine and quite close to the divine. I think we are all practically divine, made of angels and dirt, almost and enough. The word divine is a heavenly word that evokes a feeling of wonder. If we name something âdivineâ we are saying it has a spirit and contains some sort of mystery. I like to think that we come from practically divine mixed with some breaking up, and that mixes up as we try to live our lives.
Q: What is the âmaternal lineâ and what wisdom from it do you currently favor?
A: I think of the maternal line as the long line of mothers through which we trace our deep roots of justice. Right now, having just returned from the hills of Oaxaca, Mexico, I favor the motherly wisdom of handmade knowledge. The women of Oaxaca practice a pottery craft that is 4000 years old. This maternal line of wisdom is carried in their hands as well as in their heads.
Q: As you wrote this book decades after your mother died and as the mother of adult sons, did you discover anything that helped you understand your mother in a new way?
A: My mother plays an important role in this book. It moves the story forward and gives the reader a solid foundation for feeling the practically divine nature of everything around them. My mother’s role in this book was not so much to discover something but to provide context and stability so that I could discover more about the world I live in now. My mother was a remarkable woman, and she planted the lessons that she wanted her children to take with them, for all to see. I like to have discovered this as I got older. I’ve come to terms with some of his attributes, for better or for worse, like vacuuming my sons’ bed at 6.30am on Saturday mornings!
Q: When did you know that your local outreach to provide women with a safe place to live, work and heal could support a global movement, and how do you keep it growing?
A: I have to relearn that working locally means engaging the world, and vice versa, over and over again! I was talking earlier about how I just got back from Oaxaca, Mexico. I came home with a new employee in Nashville at Thistle Farms who told me how she had been trafficked in Oaxaca four years earlier. The borders of human trafficking are porous, and I believe that our work in the area of ââjustice must be too.
Q: Throughout the book you revisit the mental and emotional patterns of trauma in women’s lives. How does abuse, anger, and grief shape the spiritual life?
A: I love all the research and writing done in the area of ââpost-traumatic growth. In research, people learn not only about the damage caused by trauma, but also the potential for growth and compassion. Many of us have learned some of our most valuable lessons amid some of our worst traumas. This is how we understand resilience and courage. This is how we can develop such passion for our work and gratitude for the mercy that we experience. Being in the midst of trauma can be a powerful place in our spiritual life.
Read a full version of this interview – and more local book coverage – visit Chapter16.org, an online publication from Humanities Tennessee.