In The Mystics Would Like a Word: Six Women Who Met God and Found a Spirituality for Today (Convergent, Sept.) Shannon K. Evans, spirituality and culture editor at the National Catholic Reporter weaves her own life experiences—battling depression, buying a T-shirt that said "Cute but psycho. Things even out," losing a job with a ministry for being too progressive—into her exploration of the modern relevance of ancient wise women of faith. Each chapter suggests ways readers can relate to the lives of nuns Teresa of Ávila , Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, and Thérèse of Lisieux, plus a married woman, Margery Kempe, who bore 14 children before demanding her autonomy, convincing her husband to let her live a celibate life of service.

Evans notes in the book that when she learned Teresa was labeled in her lifetime as a "restless gadabout," and a teacher of "wicked doctrines," her response was, "Well, all right then, sister. I’ll follow your ass off a cliff." Hildegard, creative in the arts, science, and healing, who claimed her identity as one beloved by God and all God's creation—was a "radical," writes Evans, because, "Really finding your voice, and learning how to trust and use it, is one of the most radical things a woman can do."

PW talks with Evans about mystics then and now.

What's your definition of a "mystic"?

A mystic is someone who has experienced a glimpse of the eternal and chosen to pursue more. These are women in the Christian tradition who believed they were attuned to the voice of God and resolved to let God become the compass, the guiding force, in their lives rather than cultural or social expectations. We all have the potential for this.

How did you choose these six women from among many mystics, martyrs, and saints?

The criteria for inclusion was that the person had written a book so that I was going to be able to read their own words. As I note in the book, that's how it wound up being six white European women because these are people whose words were preserved and translated and passed down in books while other women didn't have that opportunity.

In the book, you say you omitted these women's views that reflected "antisemitism, xenophobia, misogyny, (and) toxic asceticism." Would knowing this about them disqualify them as mentors today?

I state that up front such instances existed in these mystics' lives in the times and places they lived in. But my choice in this book was to explore the stuff that I and my peers are wrestling with in this moment as women. I'm not representing these mystics as perfect people but there's something to be learned from imperfect people as well.

Why did researching this book affect you women so deeply?

This won't come as a shock to point out that being a woman in Christianity is really difficult right now. I have really been grappling with what is the value of this tradition in my life. Is it worth the cost that I feel? It surprised me how relevant their insights were to my life. I would say in a lot of ways they saved my faith. They have become companions for me.

One of the book's mystics is Julian of Norwich, maybe best known for her bedrock belief of God's assurance, "I shall make all things well." Is she right?

When I say, "All shall be well," I think that's what the mystics experienced within themselves. They trusted God,. They felt safe. They rested in God. It's a that's a big decision to believe that like God is not just above or around you, but also within you.