Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.~Frederick Buechner (From When The Stars Go Dark)
I adore Paula McLain's writing. I read her most recent novel, When The Stars Go Dark, this week. As I read, I kept thinking, "This book does not sound like her other books." It almost seemed like a different author. I loved the writing, yet it was stripped back, entirely vulnerable, almost like she stood before the reader with no ornamentation, bare of make-up. No mascara, no lipstick. Work boots and a torn T-shirt. The plot was compelling, her protagonist working out grief and a traumatized childhood. Then an "author's note" at the end of the book explained my observation about the changed dynamic in the writing. Ms. McLain states, "Writing a novel is such an interesting mix of effort and surrender, of control and vulnerability. It wasn't until late in the stages of drafting that it fully dawned on me just why I was so drawn to tell this particular story and not any other. My troubled detective, Anna Hart, is obsessed with trauma and healing, with intimate violence and the complex hidden connection between victims and predators, because I'm obsessed with those things, and long have been. I've given her other parts of me too--a version of my childhood spent in foster care, and my abiding love of the natural world as deep medicine. What Anna knows and thinks about the hidden scars of sexual abuse, I know as a sexual abuse survivor."
I won't spoil the story for you by disclosing the end. I will tell you this, though. There is a thread of mercy that runs through the plot line as Anna finds her way. The themes in the book caused me to think about all the ways this character attempted to "fix" her life. "Fix" herself. "Fix" her past. I could identify with Anna, thinking about all my striving to make things better on my own, refusing to surrender to life's paradox, its symbiotic nature of both terrible and beautiful. Perhaps this is why I kept reading hour after hour until I reached the end. To see if Anna had figured "it" out.
We've tried everything--the apps, the meditation, the breathing, the yoga. The therapist, the spiritual director. Even the pastor.
We've watched a million YouTube DIY videos. Still we struggle with "it."
It's not that apps and therapists and pastors and breathing and meditation and yoga and spiritual directors aren't helpful. Even all the DIY videos increase learning.
What is it, though, that makes us believe it's all about, and sometimes only about, changing "it" ourselves? Our only option to rely on our own competence. Our doing. Our striving. Our self-effort.
Might we consider adopting the art of receiving as well?
May we imagine ourselves walking into the stillness of an empty chapel. Sunlight streams through a stain-glassed window.
We sit alone, gazing at the window's beauty, our palms open and resting on our laps.
The glass emits smoldering hues of cobalt and rose. Golden orbs of light dance before us.
May we drink in the array of radiant colors, receiving the mercy of God. May we absorb His goodness, His acceptance, His peace. Like a child leans into his mother's embrace, knowing that inside her warmth, he is enough.
Knowing that the "it" is not up to him to change. Knowing that he is the beloved, relieved of self-effort and striving to be better. To be enough.
Knowing that divine grace is the antidote to "it." Whatever "it" is.