Monday, January 02, 2012

The Power of a Good Romance

 A good story well-told is a powerful thing. Story can bypass the regular channels of intellect and observation, cutting to the chase of emotional and spiritual connection; it can provide beauty, relief, even epiphany. Because story, like all good art, can touch the soul as well as engage the mind. Story can speak of things eternal - like hope and joy and love. And the best story-telling can do all of that in and through the nitty-gritty of real life, never ignoring or denying the pain, suffering, failure and struggle that mark our days on planet earth. 

I began to understand these truths most deeply while our son-in-law was in the midst of an extremely difficult journey that led to his death three years ago. Watching him suffer, and watching our daughter and their three sons share in that pain, there were days when I simply could not imagine how life could ever again be good and rich. And on those days, I turned to story to help me - to remember that suffering is not all there is, that death does not have the final answer, that the power of Love is stronger than anything else in this life.

And the story-telling that spoke most clearly into that time of darkness was romance. Good romance, not dimestore fantasy. I read and/or watched everything that Jane Austen ever wrote and the BBC ever produced from that writing. I lost myself for a few minutes or a few hours; I let the harsher realities of life  sit in the background for a little while. And I allowed myself to enter into those stories of trial and error, of personalities rubbing against each other in misunderstanding and false expectation. And most especially, I celebrated the resolution that always came at the end, when clarity and sanity were recovered and Mr. Darcy or Edward Ferrar or Mr. Knightley spoke their hearts and found reward as Elizabeth Bennett and Elinor Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse happily said, 'Yes.'

Now I add Michael Kent to the list. And Sarah Hughes. "The Dancing Priest," by Glynn Young, is a romance for today, a tale very well-told indeed, and a beautifully wrought reminder that, "God is not dead nor doth he sleep." I suppose this story is to be categorized as 'Christian fiction.' But for me, this book far out-classes most of what I've read in that genre. (Admittedly, my sample is small.) It does have specific references to conversion (for this is a love story on multiple levels) and uses some of the lingo of the evangelical world here and there. But basically, this is a rousing good romance, period. A great read for just about anyone, Christian or not. A great story that is told through characters who are complex and interesting, and settings that vary widely. The lead players are each loaded with back-story and fascinating friends and family, all of whom add depth without distraction.
I had the wonderful experience of reading this story aloud as my husband and I took long car trips over the last few weeks. We were both hooked immediately and looked forward to turning on the Kindle whenever we set the cruise control. If I had to guess, I'd say that at least a dozen times, I had to stop reading for a moment to control tears. The story is that gripping, that real.

And here's my armchair analysis of why that happened: this story, this romance, is a brilliant reflection of the Great Love Story that centers our universe, our life. For that's what the Christian faith surely is - the greatest love story ever told. And those of us who follow after Jesus find ourselves - even in the middle of our messiness or our pain -  we find ourselves caught in the grip of a rousing good romance: the God of the Universe, the One who took the downward journey to Bethlehem, who walks with us through the good and the bad, the beautiful and the messed-up - that God of very God waits for each of us to say, 'Yes.'

"The Dancing Priest," captures the imagination and the heart; it tells a beautiful, complex story that is just plain fun to read. At the same time, this very particular story mirrors for us The  Story that claims and centers us as human persons. We who are created in the image of God, who are called into relationship, who are wooed and won, restored and rescued by the lover of our souls. Read it - I promise you, this romance will grab you and not let go. 
Picture legend:
Top: The California coastline, just north of Julia Pfeiffer State Park on Highway One, surely one of the most romantic views in the entire world.

Middle: The chapel at the New Camaldoli Hermitage, two miles above highway one near Lucia, CA.

Bottom: the reflection of the 'trinitarian chandelier' in the same chapel, shining up from the stone floor.