Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book-worm's Butt

Book-worm's butt.  I have had a bad case of it in the past.  That would be where you sit on the couch reading your book so long that your hiney grows to match the contours of the sofa!  Melissa says that when she's got a great book and she doesn't put it down in time, she gets a headache instead.  But book-worm's head just doesn't have the same ring to it!

Both of us are readers and we share similar taste.  We might read anything not nailed down but we have a particular love for fantasy.  Melissa likes the epic kind, questers and princesses, swords and sorcery.  I love space opera, wide worlds peopled with magical creatures, and re-envisioned fairy tales.  

I especially love one strange sub-genre: fantasy focused on faith.  Of course the most obvious examples are the works of C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.  Both men wrote literature that just happened to be as fantastic as it was full of faith.  Still beyond them there are a number of fantasy works that offer an exploration of the ideas of faith-some of them very critical appraisals.   

My absolute favorite of these books is The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMasters Bujold.  In that particular fantasy universe there are 5 gods instead of 1 and unlike a typical pagan scenario they relate to the world through their temple system (more than faintly Roman Catholic) and saints (think like a prophet ��" someone who has a unique and miraculous connection with God).  She uses this universe to reflect deeply on what it means to be a person in the service of God. 

The main character, called "Caz," accidentally hosts a miracle.  He serves as the secretary-tutor to a princess.  To prevent her marriage to a perverse and traitorous man, he offers his own life freely to the gods in exchange for the death of her betrothed.  In the process he is spared by divine intervention.  After that his life is for a time parallel to Jeremiah's or Ehud's.  Like Jeremiah he suffers and like Ehud he is embroiled in political scheming. 

Stricken with a tumor, our hero tries his best to lift the curse that is plaguing his nation, his people, and the Princess he is sworn to.  He soon discovers the only way to succeed is to die three times.  The mystery of how to accomplish this is the heart of the plot.  I won't spoil it by explaining too much.  

Caz keeps learning lessons that apply directly to the Christian life.  Through several encounters with saints he discovers that there is a real fellowship between the people dedicated to faith.  They have inside jokes, sympathy for the terror and joy a person feels having dealt with deity and they crave each other's company.  I have friends like that.  That's what soul-friendship is all about. 

He also learns that the work of every saint is to do his daily duties to the best of his ability.  He supposes (as do we) that the work of a great-souled person would be to do something astonishing.  Instead he finds that astonishing things happen when he faithfully carries out his ordinary tasks.  He also learns that people are the hands by which heaven works and sometimes disaster strikes when people won't serve.  There's no need to look around for God's messenger or representative.  You are her. 

To be honest, Bujold's take on faith is compelling to me in part because of its darkness.  I snorted out loud, causing stares, the first time I read it. She pictures Caz so wryly.  He is in every way being manipulated, even ruthlessly used, by the deity he serves. There is a greater purpose than Caz or his comfort.  It's a story that Ezekiel could have told or Hosea.  And like the great prophets of God, Caz finds himself both lamenting his use and rejoicing to be the tool in his god's hand. 

The book also explores prayer (which Caz labels a dangerous business), the mysteries of an atoning sacrifice, and how only by becoming empty can a person be filled with God.  Over all it's themes are more like one of my devotional books than a book which might tempt me to "book-worms's butt!" 

Before you rush out to buy the book, I should warn you, it casually takes for granted a number of behaviors we well know to be wrong.  The book would probably receive a PG-13 for graphic violence and I certainly would not let my 11 year old read it.  Nonetheless I love it for the depth of the ideas it explores as much as for the delight I took in the plot.

I'd love to know, what is your favorite book of fiction that explores faith?  Join us on Facebook to continue the discussion.  We'd love to read along with you!

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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