Novelist Anne Rice is well known for her vampire fantasy-style novels but also wrote two novels about the life of the one whose birth we celebrate this week: Jesus. Rice wrote Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, and both books approach the life of Jesus with gripping, fascinating, and well-researched stories. When I read them I couldn’t help wondering if Rice was a person of faith.
We too need the company of other persons of faith as we take up the journey of finding, believing, and following Jesus.
So I was delighted when I found a book earlier this year that serves as her spiritual memoir, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, published in 2008. In it Rice describes in great detail early memories of her Catholic upbringing in New Orleans: the cathedrals, statuary, stained glass, and flickering candles. Eventually she turned away from all that, like so many others. She became an atheist and then, astoundingly and apparently sincerely, returned to Christian faith at the age of 57.
During this time as a committed Christian, she wrote one of my favorite passages regarding the call that Jesus sets out in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the importance of love—and difficulty—in the Christian faith:
The voice of Christ speaks so loudly in the Sermon on the Mount that surely it drowns out those passages that urge us to condemn or to shun. . . . There will be no easy resolution ever. . . . Learning to live with this tension, in love, is what we must do. . . . The more I study this, the more I listen to people around me talk about their experience with Jesus Christ and with religion, the more I realize that what drives people away from Christ is the Christian who does not know how to love. A string of cruel words from a Christian can destroy another Christian. (Called Out of Darkness, Anchor, 2010, p. 226–27)
Eventually Anne Rice “recanted,” so to speak, and moved more to a position of secular humanism, or belief in a higher power. She had met with criticism from some Christians for some of the causes she supported, which was part of what turned her away. I couldn’t help but be severely disappointed by this news (read more of my blog post on Anne Rice here: http://tinyurl.com/FindingHarmonyBlogAnneRice).
It is more encouraging to read another great modern writer whose Christian faith has grown along with her writing career, Kathleen Norris, author of books such as The Cloister Walk; Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith; and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.
In Amazing Grace (Riverhead Books, 1999), Norris somewhat randomly tackles words or terms related to faith, structured like a vocabulary or glossary: grace, God, sinner, heresy, creeds, orthodoxy, and so on. For most of the words she tells engaging stories, slowly weaving her way through many of the faith questions we all ponder.
Norris shares how during regular worship in a Benedictine abbey, she at first wasn’t sure at all what she believed. She was encouraged and intrigued that the monks were “so unconcerned with my weighty doubts and intellectual frustrations over Christianity. What interested them more was my desire to come to their worship” (which takes place several different times each day). One elderly monk told Norris that doubt is “merely the seed of faith.” The monks “seemed to believe that if I just kept coming back to worship, kept coming home, things would eventually fall into place,” Norris writes.
Norris relates a story of a seminary student questioning a theologian at Yale Divinity School about his inability to believe totally the creeds they recited. The student felt his difficulty affirming all the tenets of the creed meant he didn’t possess real faith. The theologian/priest told the student to just say the creeds anyway, “particularly when you have difficulty believing it.” The student protested, “How can I with integrity affirm a creed in which I do not believe?” The priest responded, “It’s not your creed. It’s our creed” (meaning the entire Christian church). “Eventually it may come to you,” he told the student. “For some it takes longer than others” (from Amazing Grace, p. 64–65).
While it may seem like bad advice to repeat things you don’t actually believe until you believe them, the priest’s response gets at the nature of faith. Faith is not just intellectual, a thing for the head. It is also a matter of the heart. Norris goes on to say, “I began to appreciate religious belief as a relationship, like a deep friendship, or a marriage, something that I could plunge into, not knowing exactly what I was doing or what would be demanded of me in the long run.” That’s faith.
Faith can bring us deep joy during this season of the year when we once again repeat the Scriptures and stories that many know “by heart”: of the baby Jesus born in a stable, of lowly shepherds who came to visit, of the wise astrologers who later undertook a long and amazing journey to visit the child. The thing we should note from the visits of the shepherds and the wise ones is that their journeys were undertaken together. There were at least several shepherds and several wise men who came to visit little Jesus, several years apart. We too need the company of other persons of faith as we take up the journey of finding, believing, and following Jesus.
May you know and believe the truth of Jesus this Christmas. A most blessed Christmas to you.
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Posted 12/18/2014 7:00:00 AM