Sunday, July 26, 2009

Called Out of Darkness

I just finished a splendid book, Anne Rice's "spiritual confession." This is one of those utterly beautiful spiritual works that brings me to tears at points. Rice grasps the heart of Christianity.

I have about twenty strips of paper sticking out of the book where I marked meaningful passages. The chapters are arranged thematically, and as a memoir this book is reminiscent of Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings. Here are some themes I found particularly interesting.

Rice sees beauty and art as redemptive. She firmly identifies herself as an artist, as someone who lives a certain way and pursues certain goals out of a belief in beauty and creativity. My favorite description in the book reflects this.

My father listening to the opera on Saturday afternoons was a delightful part of our world. He would sit at a table in the back bedroom working on his woodcarvings, and the sounds of the opera would fill the house. I loved the voice of Milton Cross, who always read a synopsis of the action before each act, with great and elegant expression. And I associate all of this with sheer happiness, with the breezes flowing through the open windows, even with the rain falling, with the windows filled with the green of the surrounding trees.

Her take on gender is wonderful. I don't think I agree with everything she says, but her perspective is freeing and helps to explain some of the struggles I have experienced as a thinking Christian woman. She calls her mind "genderless and oversensuous," meaning that the part of her personality that reasons and feels (and for an artist, these two always become intermingled) is not masculine or feminine. It is simply herself.

Knowledge is another theme. She became an atheist because Catholicism stopped making sense to her. Her moment of return to Christianity was when she realized that even though she couldn't understand everything, Jesus could.

This is really a love story about how God's love - "the world around me was filled to the brim with God" - became inescapable to her, and she found herself loving Him even though she was a professed atheist, and now she wants to love others as much as Christ loves her. Her Christianity is entirely relational. Even though she doesn't agree with major Roman Catholic doctrines, she submits herself to the church out of love for Christ. So be forewarned - you may read this and be unable to see past your doctrinal disagreements with Rice. If so, you're missing out.

In fact, on that note, I'd like to end with this quirky statement: "The more I study the New Testament, the more I see the contradictions enshrined within it. But I see something else there too. We have been a quarreling religion from the beginning, born out of an earlier quarreling religion - Judaism - and in a sense the New Testament enshrines us as such very clearly, with no easy solution as to how we handle our quarrels or the contradictory passages except that we must love!"

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