The Singer and the Song: An Autobiography of the Spirit

By Miriam Therese Winter
Orbis. 1999. 180 pp. Pb. $15. ISBN 1-57075-279-6

Reviewed by Judy Haas Acheson, Kansas City, Mo.


M. T. Winter, widely known as a "singing nun," is also widely appreciated as a friend of God and of all God's children. This book, as the subtitle indicates, is the story of her own faith journey from the blind belief of childhood to the mature faith of a medical missionary as Sister Miriam Therese.

Her story is appealing on many levels. She moves easily from profound thought to joyful exuberance. In the course of her story, she elaborates on her experiences as a medical missionary on three continents: Africa, India and Southeast Asia.

This remarkable woman became a nun at a very young age. She had intended to train as a physician. Her time as a novice, however, coincided with the Vatican’s decision to translate the Latin Mass into English and other common languages. Her sister superior wisely noted that new music was going to be required to accompany this far-reaching liturgical change.

As Sister Miriam Therese gave evidence of native musical ability together with a refreshingly spirited character, her assignment was shifted from medicine to music. She graduated from Catholic University with a bachelor’s degree in music, exhibiting a flair for liturgy and community celebrations. This became an ever increasing factor in her continuing quest to become a medical mission sister.

Her stories of missionary life in some of the poorest parts of the world will make the reader both laugh and cry. The account of her inner struggle to summon up courage to celebrate Christmas when the Khmer Rouge was on the Thai-Cambodian border is told with simple honesty.

And it will be hard not to be moved as she recounts how God drew desperate people into the family of God. These stories could well be shared in local churches. Each chapter in her book concludes with a poem-hymn of unexpected grace and beauty.

The author shares also the intimate experience of being diagnosed as having breast cancer. She recounts honestly the reality of fear as well as of faith as she lived through this threatening ordeal.

But this book is more than just stories of a remarkable life. Interweaving all of her stories is a continuing theological reflection on the difficult cultural issues that confront any Christian who seeks to life faithfully, whether in this country or abroad. These reflections are expressed in simple language, and exhibit much common sense to those who love God. These reflections reveal a lifetime of trying to understand and to do the will of God, and to be grasped by that divine Spirit.

For this reviewer, it was absolutely riveting reading. This is a spiritual autobiography; and whether or not one agrees with the author on all of her conclusions, the reader will be led to meditate deeply on these things. Also, her soft and gentle poetry, her hymns which join emotion with insight, her prayers set to rhyme and meter — all these will both enlighten the mind and uplift the soul. This book is a gift!