Brief Reviews

Sister Sharon Hunter – To Shatter Glass – Poems [Review]

To Shatter GlassA Memoir in Verse

A Review of

To Shatter Glass
Sister Sharon Hunter CJ

Hardback: Iron Pen, 2021
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Reviewed by Jennifer Schuldt

We’re ready to go. Summer is road trip season for my family, and our annual adventure is about to begin. As I settle into the front passenger’s seat, I open the book I’ve been eagerly waiting to read. It’s called To Shatter Glass, and it’s been described as a memoir in verse. The collection was written by Sister Sharon Hunter, who has been a nun for over three decades. She’s seventy-five now, and this is her first volume of poetry. Her opening message reads, “Words emerge and trace a journey, moving forward and backward, lingering like the pen, on occasion, at a resting place. Travel with me.” I stop to consider that I’m beginning two journeys—one that will span many highway miles and another that will traverse an entire life.

It’s hard to ignore the book’s bright blue cover, with its powerful abstract artwork. I give in to the temptation to thumb through the pages and look for more artwork, which I find at the beginning of each chapter. There are a total of seven paintings in the book, and like the cover art, each is alive with vibrant colors and fresh textures. I learn they’ve been created by a member of the author’s religious community, Sister Faith Riccio. It interests me that her artwork, which seems up-to-the-minute modern, has been included in a book that delves into the past.

The collection’s first poem is an apologia. Why use a series of poems to tell one’s life story? Why not use prose? Sister Sharon suggests a poet’s brevity is self-sacrificing, “allowing the reader to interpret / and experience / according to their need” (5). By omitting detailed accounts of events, poetry allows us to enter another’s life at a more intimate level. But this won’t happen unless enough of one’s life is offered in an accessible way. It’s here that Sister Sharon’s straightforward style and vulnerability engage us as she reveals the most difficult parts of her life: abuse, neglect, parental addiction, depression, loss, and betrayal.

The poet isn’t simply seeking catharsis through recalling painful memories. She’s leveraging the scope of her life to show that healing is possible, even when painful experiences reverberate through one’s existence. As the effects of trauma are examined, isolation emerges as a theme. Sister Sharon shows us that those who are abused—especially children—have to create a façade of normalcy. Over time this leads to a sense of estrangement from friends and adults who might help. Feelings of invisibility and worthlessness make it easier to hide than to be known. Prolonged trauma can even create a sense of alienation from oneself because it’s often easier to ignore the pain than to process it. In a poem that narrates an elementary school episode of self-harm, the poet writes:

“Two steps back,
time to go
head-long plunge, 
a piercing blow.
Hands and knees on shattered rain,
my head slipped through the broken pane.

Around my neck a jagged crown, 
I didn’t move or make a sound. 
If I wished an end to life,
the glass was sharper than a knife.

I knew no fear,
Felt no remorse
Enjoyed the power,
And the force” (9-22).

Even as Sister Sharon breaks our hearts, she creates community with those who’ve grown up in unstable homes. In the poem “Children of Adult Alcoholics, she writes, “Too afraid to succeed, / too numb to utter words like “help.” / We coax our minds to accept havoc” (5-7). Here and elsewhere, the strategic use of the pronoun “we” establishes common ground for those who have suffered as she has. Ironically, the descriptions of isolating experiences provide a place for readers to connect with Sister Sharon’s poetry. Even those who don’t share her background will grow in their ability to identify, understand, and empathize with trauma survivors. 

As the book progresses beyond the first half, the grip of the past begins to fade. Negative experiences become more abstract, while the poet’s inner dialogue becomes richer. Pain is confronted. Tears and grief surface, but these are ultimately signs of healing. Forgiveness blossoms in “The Becoming,” where we read, “I let go, and do not clutch / ancient grief or bitterness,” (9-10). The past has been exposed, and the veneer of normalcy the poet was forced to perpetuate has been shattered. The brittle, wounded self has begun to soften.

Throughout this collection, sparks of the divine light the way. God is The Listener who sees Sister Sharon’s hidden anguish. Justice is “a cool cloth cradled in God’s hands,” and Jesus is a baby born into peril, as was the poet. These examples remind us that even the most difficult circumstances are not beyond heaven’s reach. If one improvement could be made to this collection, it might be to include more moments of spiritual connection and redemption. This would reassure readers that the poet’s life is moving toward wholeness and peace.

If reading To Shatter Glass can be seen as a journey, its final poem feels like its destination. Entitled “U Halo Tega (The Great Mystery),” the poem concludes the work with a series of “I AM” statements,

“I am word
To those who listen.
I am word
to hearts that open.
Word unspoken,
spirit heard.

I am gentle,
fierce, protective
I am promise,
hope, surrender
I am parent,
brother, sister” (7-18).

Here the poet turns away from the past and toward the divine. These words of joyful veneration reveal her understanding of God’s sufficiency. How can God be all of these things at once? That’s the mystery, and this realization is a satisfying conclusion to the story. It makes me think Sister Sharon is showing us something beyond survival—perhaps she’s showing us how to overcome.

Jennifer Schuldt

Jennifer Schuldt has written and published Christian devotional material for the past fifteen years. A graduate of Cedarville University, and the C.S. Lewis Institute Fellowship Program, she is currently earning an M.F.A. in writing from Lindenwood University. She is a Midwestern mother, wife, occasional painter, and bibliophile.

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