Tag Archives: Truth

“The Wonder”: Self-love not self-sacrifice

There’s something about me that shies away from popular fiction: if others are reading it, I din’t want to get involved. Elitism, arrogance, fear of bad writing, or the fact that I hate waiting months on hold at the library! When The Wonder by Emma Donoghue finally got to me, I was excited to read it. My book club read it as a book back in January, so three month later I dove in.

wonder

Source: http://www.harpercollins.ca/9781443450027/the-wonder

I found this book extremely challenging. I was upset and angry and I was totally entranced by Donoghue’s writing. The story revolves around a young girl in Ireland, Anna, who hasn’t eaten in the four months since her eleventh birthday and first communion. The village thinks it is a miracle that she is still alive and a committee hires two nurses–one a nun and one trained by Miss Nightingale on the battlefield–to constantly watch the child to see if she is indeed a miracle. We get the story from Lib Wright’s point of view, the battlefield nurse.

A death watch. For eight hours at a time, both the Sister and Lib watch Anna starve. How can this not make you uncomfortable as a reader? At first, Donoghue draws her readers in through Lib: Lib isn’t certain how the child is still alive and there is an energy of excitement and possibility as people from all over make a pilgrimage to the lowly Irish cottage. Yet as facts are learned and the watch comes close to two weeks, thinks unravel.

Irishbog

Source: http://www.markfisherauthor.com/2016/07/mysterious-bog-roads-ancient-ireland-part-ii/

SPOILER ALERT!!

If you haven’t read the book, best not to read any further. Some major spoilers are below, yet are things that I can’t not write about when I think of this novel.

SPOILERS BEGIN!

Near the end of the watch two thing become apparent: 1.) The mother was feeding Anna in a bizarre way, through a holy kiss with what the mom called manna; 2.) Anna was fasting and giving her own life as a sacrifice to get her brother out of purgatory, or even hell.

What we don’t learn until the end is that Anna’s brother sexually assaulted Anna and he even called their relationship a marriage. It was sacred because they were both brother and sister and husband and wife. So here she is, eleven-year-old Anna, having learned that incest is an evil sin, fasting and praying daily to save her brother from hell. She is willing to give up her life to save her brother’s. When lib finds out about the sexual abuse, she learns that the mother, father, and priest all knew about their secret marriage and are doing nothing to stop Anna from sacrificing her life to save his.

Lib feels the same anger and disgust as the readers: Anna is made to feel that her assault is her responsibility and so the adults in her life allow her to believe that it is her duty to save her brother through fasting and prayer. After learning of Anna’s sexual assault, here are Lib’s thoughts: “Even if the fact could be proved, what lib saw as incestuous rape, others would call seduction. Wasn’t it so often the girl–no matter how young–who got blamed for having incited her molester with a look?” (Pg 262-62).

Earlier in the book, Lib is disturbed by the words of Dr. McBrearty, the old village doctor: “‘They mean to put down the flesh and raise up the spirit,’ he explained. But why does it have to be one or the other? Lib wondered. Aren’t we both?” (Pg 195). 

I’m with Lib: we can’t separate our spirit from our body and what are the dangers and the consequences when that happens.

Mind Body Spirit

Source: http://angeliasartjournals.blogspot.ca/2010/09/mind-body-spirit.html

Anna’s story is troubling for so many reasons. How many women have reported sexual abuse and have had their experience dismissed? I think the the Bill Cosby and the Jian Gomeshi cases as examples. Even the RCMP is realizing that they have a problem with how they treat sexual assault allegations and are moving to reopen some cases. The Globe and Mail reports that 1 in 5 cases are dismissed. What message is that sending? What are the physical and spiritual consequences of so many people being ignored and shamed for what was done to them? In the article, reporter Robyn Doolittle writes,

Every year, an average of 5,500 people are reporting sexual violence to Canadian police, but their cases are dropping out of the system as unfounded long before a Crown prosecutor, judge or jury has a chance to weigh in.

The result is a game of chance for Canadian sex-assault complainants, whose odds of justice are determined not only by the facts of their case, but by where the crime took place, which police force picks up their file, and what officer shows up at their door.

This is not acceptable. In the 1850s, when this book is set, this is not acceptable. In 2017, this is not acceptable. Yet why does it continue to happen? Teaching consent is something that needs to happen at home and at school.

That’s why I love this video about consent. Really, it’s simple. Anything that denies consent is assault. Until society changes how it views consent and sex, nothing will really change.

consent-1

Source: http://affinitymagazine.us/2017/02/25/the-phrase-consent-is-sexy-is-dangerously-flawed/

Because this is the spoiler section, I have to say that I loved the ending of this book. Lib, the nurse, kidnaps Anna with Anna’s consent. Anna dies, as Lib stages a fire. In reality, Nan is rescued and taken to Australia to begin her life over again with adults who will hopefully listen to her and teach her to love herself again.

love

Source: https://8tracks.com/gasps/i-love-myself-today-a-girl-almighty-playlist

 

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“My Bright Abyss”: beautiful truth

Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer had me wanting to do something terrible: I wanted to highlight and underline my library book! That is what happens when a poet writes about those moments in life that are inexplicable, those soul moments that make time stop. Wiman is able to put into words the experiences that seem to transcend words.

51HHyokYLPL
Source: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2013/marapr/edge-of-all-i-know.html

He has genius moments of clarity: “Be careful. Be certain that your expressions of regret about your inability to rest in God do not have a tinge of self-satisfaction, even self-exaltation to them, that your complaints about your anxieties are not merely a manifestation of your dependence on them. There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion that, paradoxically, unites us with others in a shared sense of complete isolation: you feel at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world” (pg 9-10).

For me, he is able to see through all of the smoke and mirrors, and is able to speak the truth with grace.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that it wasn’t just reflections on his life, he also challenges himself, and his readers, along the way. He realizes that “you must not swerve from the engagements God offers you. These will occur in the most unlikely places, and with people for whom your first instinct may be aversion” (21). Beautiful reminders that have me believing that there could actually be some universal truths.

After writing about belief, doubt, death, and life, Wiman writes about faith: “But faith is not a new life in this sense; it is the old life newly seen” (pg 108). And then after writing about his horrible experiences with cancer, he is able to write, “The temptation is to make an idol of our own experience, to assume our pain is more singular than it is. Even here, in some of the entries above, I see that I have fallen prey to it. In truth, experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others” (Pg 162).

Wiman’s book is beautiful and challenging and heartbreaking all at the same time because it is full of clarity and honesty. He begins and ends with a stanza from one of his unfinished poems:

My God my bright abyss
into which all my longing will not go
once more I come to the edge of all I know
and believing nothing believe in this:


Source: http://www.mbird.com/2013/10/mondays-with-mandelstam-rough-draft-1937/

“Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us” (Christian Wiman).

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

TRUTH-2
Source: http://nicolettelodge.com/truth-2/

“Searching for Sunday”: what is church?

This ‘book’ really ties the room together. My neighbours are probably wondering what book I’ve been reading on my patio because at some points I’ve laughed or chuckled out loud while reading Rachel Held Evan’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (usually because of references to The Dude). I know I audibly sighed in agreement and in anger. And I know for sure that at one point I had to put the book down to run inside to grab some Kleenex because I was weeping. And that right there is the church! Joy. Connection. Frustration. Sorrow. Suffering. Yet the church is also full of healing, and that is Held Evan’s message to her reader: the church does (and should) offer healing. It’s not a short-term numbers game driven by fear, but instead it’s playing the long game of loving others.

sunday
Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/searching-for-sunday/

In her book, Rachel Held Evans offers her own personal experiences with church. She starts off by writing this:
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found in: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.” (Pg xiv)

It is always interesting to hear someone else’s stories and experiences and try to see yourself somewhere to find a similar experience. The need to tell stories and to be heard is essential to healing, which Held Evan’s realizes and she does not shy away from sharing triumphs and epic failures for all to read. I truly appreciated her reflection both about her own thoughts and feelings about church and the reflections of others she has listened to along the way. She seeks to find a place where people are ok to talk about failures, sorrow, pain, grief, and then to help each other, not with quoting Scripture verses by memory or offering advice,but by being present and open. She is looking for genuine community, just like in the early church and with Jesus and his disciples and followers.

held
Source: http://rachelkingbatson.com/tag/rachel-held-evans/

One of my favourite sections of the book is Held Evans talking about her faith and her struggle to keep going. She uses the image of the labyrinth, which is something that has become important in my own faith practice. She says this:
“It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive…I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” (Pg 180)

No step is wasted. I like that she is strong enough to see her mistakes and distance from God as a step. Just like a labyrinth, there is only one path that guides us, even though it feels and looks like we are lost. Further on, she writes, “The church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. Anything else we try to peddle is snake oil. It’s not the real thing.” (Pg 209)

Her comparison to an ‘authentic’ church and a recovery group was wonderfully accurate: “At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.” (Pg 67) In my own personal experience, it has been gathering to Communion/The Lord’s Table/Eucharist that has always been the most profound to me: all kinds of people going through all kinds of things come together to share in eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Community and the hope of resurrection and God’s Kingdom come. I like my church full of imperfect people: a transgendered man, a gay couple, an elderly widow, children, a homeless man, a woman and her mother, a single father. I like that on Sunday mornings I am reminded that God is present everywhere and in everyone, even, and especially, when we aren’t perfect.

communion
Source: https://twitter.com/StStephenYYC/media

“It’s strange that Christians so rarely talk about failure when we claim to follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion…There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.” (Pg 112)

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

welcome
Source: http://www.ladera.org/beliefs/openAffirming.html