Friday, August 20, 2010

The Edgy God -- in Fiction

You readers may all grow weary of me speaking of the years I spent as a book reviewer for CBA books. But that experience marked me, as a reader and a writer.

With my own column (and freelancing for other publications), I had carte blanche to order any book that struck my fancy to read and review.

Publishers were anxious to get reviews and I often received boxes almost too heavy to lift because they included others along with the ones I’d requested. I read every book I reviewed, cover to cover. I was conscientious and thorough.

Sometimes I reviewed reference books (the only ones I didn’t read completely), but not often. Since I myself published non-fiction, I was always interested when provocative, thoughtful books appeared.

They ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Whenever a Philip Yancey book was released, I could not wait to get my hands on it because I knew it would be honest and would tackle difficult issues like his Disappointment With God. (Which has been one of the most influential books of my life.)

But major publishing companies put out tripe, too. One book, which was advertised as a study of how to distinguish intuition from inspiration, I eagerly awaited. Imagine my disappointment in the fact that its hundreds of pages listed only two scriptures and those in the context of chanting them as a mantra. (Excuse me? Major Christian publisher? What were you thinking? I asked them. I’ll do you a favor and not write a review!)

Fiction was even more discouraging. I became paralyzed with the inability to monthly find/choose/order a novel or two that didn’t have a folksy feel to it, a fuzziness and warmth, all those emotions that were not helpful to me as a conflicted, art-craving person in need of mucking-around collegiality instead of melatonin.

And then my editor said, “Have you never read Frederick Buechner?”

And with those words, I saw light at the end of the Christian fiction tunnel. Buechner isn’t afraid to write edgy fiction about the God he called “the Fear” (a Biblical name for God, by the way.)

See what inspired me. Hear what I heard, in this passage from Son of Laughter:

“Arise, the Fear had told me. Did he know in his high heavens the weariness of rising? Lord as they say he is of all the living, can he guess the bitterness of death and dying? The flaming, footsore men? The camels’ burden? ‘Go,’ he told me. Can he without shame bid a man go and then cripple him for going? Can he show him the face of light and then leave him in darkness without even a silver hand to hold on to?”

And that was the light, the Buechner-focused light, that I’ve been stumbling toward with every written word since.

Share with us an example of a description of God from an author whose language stirred you to a greater understanding of God.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Yancey has been one of the most influential authors in my faith. Love his books. I'm going to go look for a description.
~ Wendy

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Found it. I knew right where to go.

"The wound had simply healed up. I felt a comfortable strangeness, as if smiled upon by someone behind my back; I sat on my haunches there in Swede's cool rool and remembered how Dad, after stumbling over the saddle, had picked it up in his patient hands and carried it here and set it down again. I touched the cantle: just smooth leather, not even a seam.

Make of that what you will."

~ Peace Like a River

Sure, it's symbolism. But ah--I loved it too much not to quote.
~ Wendy

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

From the novel "Feeling For Bones" by Bethany Pierce: (quite a long passage so I'll cobble bits together...)

"I burned my eyes on the patch of white sky above. The overarching branches bent at their elbows, dividing into the intricate network of neurons or of veins...In textbooks they show the earth sliced from the side, so you can see the roots fanning in the ground just as the boughs break the sky: the bottom half a reflection of its top. The single trunk between connects the visible to the hidden.

I am the Vine, and you are the branches, Jesus said. I am the touchstone between all that is visible and that which is not.

...Then I saw it: the church a divine network shooting outward, each branch alive by the power of life surging upward from the root... Those who love in His name are the visible manifestation of the Kingdom unseen."

Sara said...

Walter Wangerin. One of my profs gave me a copy of "The Orphean Passages" just before I graduated from college and his introduction in there on turning faith from a noun, a fixed thing which we either have or do not--to a verb, a journey, something we live and do ("Faithing") has been profoundly influential on my Christian walk.

Latayne C Scott said...

Wendy, Karen, and Sara, thank you!

Wendy, did Leif intend the episode to illustrate the patience of God? (Great passage. I haven't read the book though.)

Karen, that was terrific.

Sara, would love to have a passage from that book -- could you share one? I haven't read that book and would love to know more about how he saw God.

Wendy Paine Miller said...


It's arguable, but I believe so. That was my take.
~ Wendy

Marcia said...

If you can get through the Old English - John Milton is a real blessing.
I especially like the last few lines of the following quote (beginning with "what in me is dark, illumine..) Whenever I find this again in my file of inspirations, I echo his prayer. I just happened to run across it a few minutes ago.

"I thence Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song, [O Heavenly Muse]
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou know'st; thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast Abyss,
And mad'st it pregnant: what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That, to the height of this great argument,
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men."

—John Milton, in Paradise Lost

Latayne C Scott said...

Gorgeous, Marcia!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but this is a long one . . . Wendell Berry

The speaker is Jayber Crow in Berry's novel of the same name:

"For a while again I couldn't pray. I didn't dare to. In the most secret place of my soul I wanted to beg the Lord to reveal himself in power. I wanted to tell him that it was time for his coming. If there was anything at all to what he had promised, why didn't he come in glory with angels and lay his hands on the hurt children and awaken the dead soldiers and restore the burned villages and the blasted and poisoned land? Why didn't he cow our arrogance?...

But thinking such things was as dangerous as praying them. I knew who had thought such things before: "Let Christ the king of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Where in my own arrogance was I going to hide?

Where did I get my knack for being a fool? If I could advise God, why didn't I just advise him (like our great preachers and politicians) to be on our side and give us victory? I had to turn around and wade out of the mire myself.

Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn't it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment he had come down in power and glory? Why didn't he do it? Why hasn't he done it at any one of a thousand good times between then and now?

I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn't, he hasn't, because from the moment he did, he would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be his slaves. Even those who hated him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to him and he to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.

And so, I thought, he must forebear to reveal his power and glory by presenting himself as himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of his creatures. Those who wish to see him must see him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world."

Sara said...

Sorry it's taken a while to get back to this. The prologue is a rather extended and involved discussion, but I'll make a stab at excerpting. :)

"Faith flux. Faith flows. To be in faith is to be changing . . . faithing. Three things cry the change of it. It is relationship, which manifests its life in change adn which, to be, must also be changing. It is a relationship--with the living God . . . the constant loss of stability . . . enacted in this world, this world of the furious swirl, in which all things flow . . . all our lives and our experience are borne upon this flux. It is the unspeakable love of God that he comes to meet us in the very terms of this world . . . these declare that faithing is a verb, a house a-building, yet undone. [We] cheapen it by chatter, judging some to be "in faith" and others "out of faith" as though it were a fixed condition . . .it is a frightful thing: a drama wherein God is the protagonist . . . Faith, if ever it is to be a noun, is properly the whole play, from the first scen to the last, done up and done. But we do not know that last until we are there.

Latayne C Scott said...

writememphis and Sara, those are both superlative examples!! Thank you so much for sharing them. Wow.