Literature

The Hawk and the Dove

If you’ve never read Penelope Wilcox’s triology, The Hawk and the Dove, well, you should. It’s one of those books everyone should read, especially anyone who has ever suffered or struggled with the problem of evil. I just happened to be given a copy of The Hawk and the Dove in college and it changed me. The book is comprised of a series of short stories that take place around the 15th century in a monastery. The main character, Father Peregrine, comes on the scene as a self-possessed, capable monk with strong hands. He is artistic, does beautiful illuminations, intelligent, able to debate theology…. yet somehow in the midst of this, his very self-sufficiency keeps him at arm’s length from the rest of the monks. Shortly after becoming the Abbot, enemies of his family find him and beat him, shattering his hands and kneecap. He spends the rest of his life as a cripple. Initially, he tries to maintain his self-sufficiency, to deal with his grief and fear alone. One of the brothers breaks through to him and beholds his suffering. The rest of the stories are about how the Abbot becomes the hub of the community. His weakness enables him to relate to the brothers on an intensely deep level, to soothe their fears and their weaknesses. He becomes truly a father to them all. And in the midst of his suffering, he falls in love with Jesus as the suffering savior.

I could never understand why the Catholic church portrays Jesus on the cross, until I read this book. Yes, I want to continue to celebrate His resurrection as verification of all He promised, but beholding Jesus as the suffering Savior has changed me in ways I can’t even explain. The Gospel is Christ crucified… God’s love revealed through sacrifice and suffering. He is not unfamiliar with our pain. He is not putting us through hoops, as though we’re rats in a maze. His suffering can comfort us in the midst of ours. Our suffering can connect us with Christ. Stop and think about that for a moment. Just turn it over a few times. Jesus is the suffering Savior and our suffering can connect us with Him.

He has empathy, not sympathy, for us in the middle of our suffering. As we suffer, we have empathy, not sympathy, for what He went through for US. for us! Jesus went through suffering for us. As I suffer, I come to a greater appreciation of God’s love for me–the cost He paid for me. This is the answer to the problem of evil–the cross.

Our suffering can connect us with others. This also blows my mind. I love how Wilcox shows the transformative power of suffering. Before his infirmity, Father Peregrine is self-sufficient and is able to command the respect of his brothers. Afterwards, he is broken and needy and earns their love. Before, he is able to guide them on an intellectual, surface level. Afterwards, his brokenness opens doors into their hearts and there is deep dealing experienced. It’s so easy for me to gloss over this concept. Maybe it’s the performance-oriented, perfectionistic part of me. I don’t know. But in my weakness, my first reaction is to conceal it, and when I can’t hide it, I try to minimize, and over the past few years, when I can’t even do those things, I feel isolated and like dead weight, dragging everyone around me down. Father Peregrine doesn’t hide his weakness–he can’t. And he’s a better Abbot because of his weakness, not in spite of his weakness. Just as Christ is a better high priest because of his weakness.

What would it be like if we all lived with our weaknesses and brokenness in the spotlight? Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? But maybe we would be more intimately connected with God and with others, maybe we would have healthier souls. Maybe we would be better tools for the good works God’s prepared in advance for us to do. Maybe I am a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter because of my illness and brokenness, not in spite of it. Maybe you are too.

Literature

Sovereignty and the Betrayal of the gods

When I was at Moody Bible Institute, I used to hear students talk about how they couldn’t understand folks’ problems with “the problem of evil.” “Just have more faith.” “It’s just an excuse to rebel against God.” I will say that there are different versions of the problem of evil–the purely logical/mental one and then that deep, down anguish that comes from experiencing evil. To a girl coming face to face with the depth of brokenness in my own childhood, their naivete was almost obscene–but maybe those students were inexperienced or perhaps running from the reality of their own lives. Who knows?

The past several years as I’ve tried to come to grips with being chronically ill, I’ve found myself coming back to God’s sovereignty, His love, the pattern He’s working–one that I’m often too close to see. One of the books that always brings me back to myself is The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. If you haven’t read it yet (or her other books), you should check it out!

**Spoiler Alert**

The series revolves around Eugenides, the royal Thief of Eddis. Eddis is a mountainous country smack dab between two other countries: Attolia and Sounis. The Medes are a larger country who are trying to absorb these three countries into their empire. The Queen of Attolia opens with Eugenides in Attolia on a fact-finding mission: has Attolia allied herself with the Medes? Unbeknownst to Queen Attolia, Eugenides has been in love with her for many years, ever since he saw her dancing in a garden alone and watched her go from being a lonely, shadow princess to a queen, apparently with a heart of stone. While in Attolia, however, the Queen somehow discovers his presence and captures him. She enacts the traditional punishment upon the Thief, cutting off his right hand. Eugenides is then returned to Eddis. Eddis promptly goes to war with Attolia (and eventually with Sounis). The Medes continue to press Queen Attolia for a treaty, providing a gift of gold to fund her war while busily subverting her barons. Eddis is about to lose the war when Eugenides devises a daring plan–he can steal Queen Attolia and marry her, thus providing Attolia with a stable, friendly-to-Eddis government. He steals Queen Attolia, but the Mede ambassador somehow hears of his plan and is able to retrieve the queen. The Mede also captures Eugenides and kills the last of Attolia’s loyal barons. Attolia is forced to either ally herself with the Medes or with the Eddisians. She chooses to marry Eugenides, and together the Eddisians and the Attolians drive the Medes from the continent. Marriage preparations are underway when Attolia informs Eugenides that she wants no involvement of the Eddisian gods in their ceremony because they were the ones who betrayed his location to her and to the Mede ambassador. Eugenides sets up an impromptu altar to the gods and demands to know why:

“You betrayed me,” he shouted, his voice muffled  by his arms. He remembered the Mede who had appeared on the mountainside without any explanation. “Twice,” he wailed. “You betrayed me twice. What are the Medes, that you support them? Am I not your supplicant? Have I not sacrificed at your altars all my life?…Have I offended the gods?” he asked in despair before rage burned the despair away. “And if I have offended the gods,” he yelled, almost unable to hear his own words, “then why didn’t I fall? It is the curse of thieves and their right to fall to their deaths, not–not–” He folded his arms across his chest, tucking the crippled one under and curling over it, unable to go on.

“Who are you to speak of rights to the gods?” the voice asked, gentle still.

The room was dark around Eugenides, and the darkness pressed him until he couldn’t breathe, until he was aware of nothing but the pressure. He was nothing, the smallest particle of dust surrounded by a myriad of other particles of dust, and put all together, they were…nothing but dust. Alone, separated from the others, in the eye of the gods he may have been, but he remained, still, dust. He struggled to inhale and whispered, “Have I offended the gods?”

“No,” said the voice.

“Then why?” he sobbed, clutching his arm tighter, though the blisters under the cuff were individual pains as sharp as knives. “Why?”

…”Little Thief,” [the goddess] said, “what would you give to have your hand back?”

Eugenides almost lifted his head.

“Oh, no,” said the goddess. “It is beyond my power and that of the Great Goddess as well. What’s done is done, even with the gods. But if the hand could be restored, what would you give? Your eyesight?” The voice paused, and Eugenides remembered begging Galen, the physician, to let him die before he was blind. “Your freedom?” The goddess went on. “Your sanity? Think, Eugenides, before you question the gods. You have much  still to lose.”

Softly Eugenides asked, “Why did my gods betray me?”

“Have they?” asked the goddess as softly.

“To Attolia, to the Mede…” Eugenides stuttered.

“Would you have your hand back, Eugenides? And lose Attolia? And see Attolia lost to the Mede?”

Eugenides’s eyes were open. In front of his face the floor was littered with tiny bits of glass that glittered in the candlelight.

“You have your answer, Little Thief.” And she was gone.

~~~~~~~~~~

I love this passage! You have to read the whole series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings) to see how the tapestry of events plays out–the gods use Eugenides to save Eddis, Attolia, and even Sounis; Eugenides and Attolia end up with a happy marriage; and the whole chain of events is triggered by the cutting off of his hand.

Whenever I find myself starting to feel betrayed by God I come back to this. Did God want me to go through suffering and to be hurt by others’ (and my own) sin? No, He designed the world to be perfect, without pain and without sin (see Genesis 1-3). One day He will return it to that condition (Revelation 21:1-5). In the meantime, He has allowed difficult things for my good (Romans 8:28). What would I trade to have my health back? Would I give up writing? What about those people who have told me God used my book, Tales from a Spacious Place, to change their lives? Would I trade the good He’s worked in their lives? Would I trade the growth He’s worked in my life through my illness?

No. Those are things I’m not willing to give up, despite the anguish of being here. I have my answer: God hasn’t betrayed me; He’s brought me out into a spacious place.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. ~ Psa 18:16-19 NIV