Becca Stevens’ new book Snake Oil is a remarkable read, full of heartache, hope and renewal. Its subtitle, “The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling,” points to how resurrection can happen even after trauma and suffering.
Stevens, a featured speaker at of many generations, is an Episcopal priest who founded Thistle Farms, a nonprofit that employs women who are recovering from violence, prostitution, addiction and life on the street. The farm creates, markets and sells all-natural bath and beauty products. Stevens also started the Magdalene, a residential community that provides a safe place to live, education, therapy and support at no cost—giving the women a purpose, employment and the ability to create new lives.
In Snake Oil, we learn about Stevens’ early life and what she had to do to recover from childhood trauma. Her father, an Episcopal priest, was killed by a drunk driver when Stevens’ was about five years old. She writes, “The experience of losing my father made faith more about how I was going to live my life than about how God was going to affect the daily activities before me.” She said that experience was formative and set her on a path that showed “faith and healing are more about actions than words.”
Later, a family friend and member of her father’s congregation began to sexual abuse Stevens. Years later, in her own ministry, she realized that if she “wanted to serve and be a part of the healing journey for others,” she needed “to get on with my own healing process.” In Snake Oil she reflects on her own “healing and truth-telling” and tells the stories of restoration and resurrection of the many women her ministries have helped. Steven’s writes that “Over the years, about two-hundred women have graced the doorstep at Magdalene and come to live as residents in the program. More than 72 percent have been clean and sober two and a half years after they come in.”
Like the snake oil salesmen who sold remedies (often false) and hope, Stevens claims healing through oils and lotions, touch and time. Throughout the book she gives recipes for balms, oil blends and things like mock apple pie. She reminds us that, “Eventually, by traveling through all the backtracking, backslides, and sidetracks, we see the journey toward the holy, sacred ground. Events offer us sacred nuggets of truth and mercy that carry us along the path and are as valuable as gold. They give us the experiences we need to find our voice and tell our truth. They offer us compassion for all that others have gone through and the chance to be better healers.” This book is well worth the journey!