Author Spotlight: Heather King

by Melanie on October 31, 2017

in Author Interview, Books, Catholicism, Nonfiction, Spirituality, Writing

Note: In this feature, Whitney Hopler profiles women who write about faith. If you are the author of a new book (published within the past six months) and would like to be considered for an interview, please email Melanie.

By Whitney Hopler

What will truly help us when we face desperate circumstances? Prayer will work when nothing else does, writes Heather King in her new book Holy Desperation: Praying as if Your Life Depends on It (Loyola Press, 2017). King writes candidly about how God has helped her with the desperate situations in her own life – from struggling with an alcohol addiction to dealing with financial and emotional challenges. Her voice of experience assures readers that God’s grace can cover anything they may be struggling with themselves.

King, who is also the author of other popular books (such as Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Culture, and Christ) and writes a weekly column on arts and culture for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, encourages people to take a fresh look at prayer. So often, people worry that if they don’t pray the right way (whatever that may seem like to them) God won’t listen to them or answer them. But as King writes in Holy Desperation: “You don’t have to call God by name. You don’t have to believe in him. You don’t even have to know you’re praying. But if you get on your knees and ask a power greater than you for help, the help will come. It may not come in the form you want or the form you’re expecting, but the help will come.”

It’s vital for people to overcome their fears about prayer and just approach God as they are, with confidence in his boundless and unconditional love and mercy, says King. Everyone can count on experiencing that love and mercy through Christ – no matter how God may decide to answer their prayers, she says. “The purpose of prayer is not to have God `answer’ our requests. It’s to establish a relationship with God. It’s to be in right relationship to him. It’s to pray for knowledge of his will for us, not to commandeer God to our little plan.”

In contrast with the calm and balanced life that people sometimes think results from following Christ, life becomes more wild than mild, King says. “There is nothing ‘wilder’ than the Crucifixion. To leave our nets, like Peter and the other fishermen did, and to embark on a completely new and uncharted pilgrimage, is by definition ‘wild.’ Real wildness, as in the willingness to be utterly out of step with our culture, our secular friends, our nation-state government, our culture of political correctness, is not for the faint of heart. John the Baptist was wild and the powers-that-be chopped off his head, for sport. Christ was wild and they crucified him. Real wildness is an interior state. St. Therese of Lisieux, a lifelong virgin in her cloistered Carmelite convent, was about as wild as you can get. She offered herself as a holocaust victim for love, while outwardly appearing to be a completely ordinary, correct nun. That’s what attracts me and how things have panned out for me: the mystery of going through life outwardly entirely unremarkable but inside on fire with Christ. Trying to be Christ to others and to see Christ in others. Spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth not just with our exterior actions but with our thoughts, our prayers, our fidelity to the teachings of the Church on everything from sex to the preferential option for the poor.”

King challenges readers to break down their biases and start becoming more welcoming and available to other people on daily basis. A sobering awareness of God’s mercy for them can help people learn how to stop judging others, she says. “I think it’s a great gift if you come to God on your knees as a pathetic, wretched sinner. That’s how I came, with alcoholism. Utterly broken, clueless, out of ideas. I was the recipient of unmerited mercy. From that flowed massive gratitude. Gratitude, the knowledge that we’ve been welcomed back to the table through no merit of our own – that’s what has led in my case to becoming more welcome and available to others. I mean, would it kill me?” As soon as people choose to become welcoming and available, they’ll see that Christ will put some people in their paths that require them to learn how to love in deeper ways, King adds. “You don’t get to welcome just the people with whom you feel a shared sensibility or who make you laugh or have something to `offer’ in return. In our culture of so-called freedom, rights, I get to decide ‘who’ I am, this surrender of self – that I, for one, do horribly imperfectly – is radical.”

In Holy Desperation, King also encourages readers to do God’s will vocationally, regardless of how much success or acclaim they find from their work. The tension between living for God and society’s emphasis on living for money can be strong. Navigating that faithfully involves focusing on working with love, however God leads people. “I think you set out to love,” says King. “You get in touch with the deepest desire of your heart, which in the deepest sense is to love, to serve, to give all of yourself. And then the vocation comes easily. My yoke is easy, my burden light. I mean easy in the sense of you’re not on the fence anymore. You’ve made a decision, which in a sense is to be obedient, to listen carefully, which is what obedience means. That frees up all the energy you were using trying to make a decision and allows you to put it toward the lifelong, all-absorbing work of your vocation.  … Let your desire go to the stars. Don’t settle for the hideously empty promises of power, property, prestige. Go for broke. If you hunger deeply enough, desire intensely enough for meaning, for love – all roads lead to Christ.”

Prayer is ultimately more powerful than any type of desperate circumstances people can ever encounter, Holy Desperation assures readers. “We need to be in on something bigger than our self-centered obsessions and fears in order to avoid being overcome by them,” King writes. “We need community, the sacraments, liturgy, ceaseless prayer. We need all the help we can get.”

Whitney Hopler has written extensively about faith for,, and other places. She serves as the communications coordinator at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being.


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