Author, Artist, Activist John Schlimm coming to Dubuque, Iowa

“God never gives us more than we can handle. When we see each joy and, yes, sorrow that comes to us as a gift, and we greet both with gratitude, that’s what makes us stronger people. That gratitude is what helps us build our faith and gives us purpose while we’re here. Otherwise, so much would be unbearable.”

That was just one of the nuggets of wisdom I jotted down as I read John Schlimm’s Five Years in Heaven in May 2015.

“I want one,” I thought as I read the 31-year-old author’s story chronicling his unlikely friendship with an 87-year-old nun. “I want an old nun friend who can teach me with her wise words and gentle tone.”

Theirs was more than a friendship~ it was two quiet souls connecting in a world that sometimes seems to have gone mad.

My daughter, whose eight-year-old son had died a year and a half before, loved the book as much as I did. Not every author would reply when a fan contacts them, but John did. When I told him two wounded souls in Iowa loved his book and asked for personalized autographed copies, John sent these:

John schlimm books with artWe treasure our personalized piece of art on the end pages of a book that contains passages like this:

“These days, people are so caught up in a world that’s competitive and full of temptations. Everyone wants something bigger or more than their neighbor has. A bigger house, a bigger job, more money, more clothes, more gadgets, more popularity, more things. Everyone tries to outdo one another. It’s rare to hear of someone who wants a bigger heart, a bigger faith, or a bigger sense of gratitude for what they already have.” 

Clarke University and Shalom Spirituality Center have collaborated to bring John Schlimm to Dubuque in March, where he will appear at several events. On Monday night, March 11, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Shalom, a 6:00 pm dinner will be followed by facilitated discussion related to John’s friendship with Sister Augustine, their mutual connection to Saint Francis, and matters of heart and soul. Cost is $25.

Five-Years-in-Heaven

On Tuesday, March 12, at 6:30 pm, a Participatory Art night will be held at Shalom. Attendees can contribute to three projects; an art piece similar to John’s THE SMILE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (is yours) that is displayed at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, flower paintings on canvas that will be taken to a Dubuque area nursing home or retirement center, and a Compassion planting project with letters of compassion printed on recycled paper that contains flower seeds. Cost is $15, which includes materials.


A book club discussion of Five Years in Heaven will be held in the Shalom library on Thursday, March 14 at 6:30. Copies of the book are available at RiverLights Bookstore in Dubuque. Offering is $6, plus the cost of the book. Contact Shalom Spirituality Center, 1001 Davis Street, to register for these Shalom events. 563-582-3592 or Info@shalomretreats.org. Contact Mary Potter Kenyon at marypotterkenyon@gmail.com for more information.

Clarke University is hosting John for a discussion of his varied pursuits on Wednesday night, March 13, at 7:00 in Jansen Music Hall on Clarke campus. The event is open to the public. Contact Hunter Darrouzet at 563-588-8192 or hunter.darrouzet@clarke.edu for more information.

On Friday, March 15, Convivium Urban Farmstead, 2811 Jackson Street, is hosting a Vegan Cooking demonstration and discussion with John Schlimm, followed by an optional meal. See convivium-dbq.com/events for registration, or contact Leslie Shalabi at 563-557-2900 for more information.

A Light So Lovely book review

“We’re supposed to be such witnesses of Christ’s love that other people will want to know what makes us glow.”

In A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, author Sarah Arthur shares these words spoken by Madeleine L’Engle at the 1996 Festival of Faith and Writing.

light so lovely

The message is a timely one for me. Not only have I been studying the difference between happiness and joy in a “Franciscan Way of Life” course I’m taking, the topic has recently come up in conversations with my children.

Arthur’s depth of research into Madeleine L’Engle’s life reveals a woman who always attempted to practice charity and empathy towards others. About an acquaintance who worshipped alongside her every day but hated all people of an Asian descent, Madeleine wrote “Surely within me there is an equal blindness, something that I do not recognize in myself, that I justify without even realizing it. All right, brother. Let us be forgiven together, then.”

“All right, brother, we say to the angry relative at Thanksgiving. All right, sister, we say to the person on social media whose politics sound like a foreign language. All right, we say to our idols when they disappoint us. Let us be forgiven together, then. We will only make a way forward when we recognize that we too are flawed and wounded sojourners, that where we are now on the journey is not the end game,” Sarah Arthur extrapolates.

Up until the reading of this beautifully-written biography, I’ve managed to pointedly ignore any hint of criticism of my idol, Madeleine L’Engle, preferring instead to keep the Christian mother and author atop the carefully crafted pedestal I’d established for her in my mind. Somehow, Arthur has managed to delve into that criticism in a way that does not cause disappointment, but instead reveals the complexity of a woman who, despite her failings, still managed to convey a strength and faith we should all strive for.

“Madeleine showed up to serve the work of writing; she disciplined herself to sit down and be present. And she showed up as a struggling believer; she disciplined herself to continue praying, continue reading the Bible, continue practicing hospitality, continue worshiping in community. She perhaps never wrested every chapter of her life into a tidy resolution in which ‘all shall be well,’ but she put her trust in the One whose love does not fail.”

Novelist Leif Enger called Madeleine “an apologist for joy,” Sarah Arthur informs the reader. A Light So Lovely aptly conveys that aspect of her.