First, Happy Birthday Ms. Rice--I'm three days late, but very gratified at the gift you've given us all with your confession.
The subtitle of this book is revealing: A Spiritual Confession. It is not a confession in the sense of enumerating sins but a kind of Martin Luther confession--"Here I stand, I can do no other." But Ms. Rice stands firmly with the Church despite blemishes and a long period of estrangement, during which she called herself an atheist. During this period she struggled hard to maintain her atheism, but if the truth be told, there were signs always of the Holy Spirit at work bringing her gently home.
The book is superb. We learn enough of Ms. Rice for the events and revelations to make sense, but not so much that one is perhaps distracted by too much information. Much of the book focuses on her early life in New Orleans and the preliterate formation of her faith--a formation that endured the trials of a long period of distance (38 years.)
As one progresses through Ms. Rice's story, one learns many details about her including her real name, and incidentally her birthday.
It's hard to know where to start in looking at the book, but perhaps the best place is in the facts that most fascinate me. Ms. Rice had a great deal of difficulty in her early life obtaining information through reading. This continued through her early college career. How interesting then that she took up pen and made her living through her writing.
I have said before, and I do not mean it as unkindly as it sounds, that i have never cared much for Ms. Rice's writing style. Up until her Life of Jesus books, I had not completed an entire novel although I tried nearly all of the early ones. But given the struggle she had with literacy, the gift of writing that she has is an enormous accomplishment. It does not make me inclined to like the writing style any better, but it does cause me to bow down once again before the Creator who so mysteriously imbued her with these contradictory trends. Who knows the divine path in it? But divine it is and through the combination of these things, Ms Rice was able to return to her early love of the Lord. More, it is to be hoped that by sharing the story of her struggle she will lead a great many back home with her.
One more point before I proceed to the final analysis. Ms. Rice determinedly does not apologize for the fiction she produced up until the Jesus Books. She, in fact, helps explain the personal meaning of the writing in her life. Regardless of whether or not it had any personal meaning, she is right not to apologize for it. A writer writes because they cannot do otherwise, and a writer writes what is in the depths of her or his heart. If that is darkness, perhaps writing is a means of exorcism, if light perhaps it is a means of praise. Ms. Rice has had both, and through her writing she struggled with her alienation from the faith. Ultimately, that writing may have been instrumental in bringing her home. Yes, she wrote about darkness, because I have not read all the way through a book, I cannot comment on the nature of this, and do not wish to. I heartily endorse Ms. Rice's attitude toward her work. It would seem that a thinking reader, or even a casual reader, would be engaged throughout her work in the struggle that she waged. And by that engagement they might come to a tempering of faith, or perhaps to the cusp of faith. I don't know.
All of that said, when we get to the end of the book, we cannot but realize that Ms. Rice has some very unorthodox views of the faith. Not heterodox, and not necessarily unorthodox in the sense of denying doctrine, but she brings to her view of the Holy Family a unique set of issues involving gender identification and equity. These are good to hear about. Ms. Rice is not proselytizing her notions, but giving us a deep and honest sense of where she stands. That is refreshing. She is disturbed by the pedophilia scandal. She is upset by the notion that women cannot be ordained. She has little patience for some of the patterns of the Pre-Vatican II church (the index of forbidden books) even while she cherishes its beauty and magnificence. She struggles with some of the divisions within the church and with some of the church teachings on sexuality. And for all of that, she has come and intends to remain there. Let me share with you a stirring passage from the end of the book:
from Called Out of Darkness
But I see people driven away from churches by these issues. And some for their whole lives.
And too many make the mistake I made. They leave the loving figure of Jesus Christ because they feel they have to leave his churches.
I will never leave Him again, no matter what the scandals or the quarrels of His church on earth, and I will not leave His church either.
Next Sunday, I will walk into my parish church as I do every week, and I will celebrate the Mass with my fellow Catholics, and I will stand before the altar of the Lord.
I stop here, not because that is the end of a beautiful passage, but because, you all should have the pleasure of reading it for yourself.
Ms. Rices' story is told in beautiful and simple prose. There are within these pages prose poems and long litanies of praise. (She even gives us pause to reconsider our opinions about the commercialization of Christmas--in a wonderful, beautiful way.) But they never intrude, nor are they ever dull or extraneous. I was buoyed up in my own lackluster spiritual life by being able to share for a moment the difficult journey of this determined woman. It is good to know that the spiritual life is a struggle for all and that my own bleakness does not hold a candle to the torment others feel as they seek meaning in Jesus Christ. Not that I relish that all must struggle, but it's good to see once again how good the Lord has been to me.
Let me recommend this book to the attention of everyone who struggles with the Church, either doctrinally or spiritually. Or if you know someone who is hurt and struggling, buy this book and give it to them. For seekers, at whatever stage, Ms. Rice's work will give hope and some measure of joy. And let me part with this passage from near the end:
Why did He do it this way? Think about it. He made the Universe. So He could have done it any way that He liked. He knew what His intentions were. He knew what we were. He knew what He meant to do. Why begin in such complete obscurity and helplessness? Why begin in the arms of a woman who had to provide for His every physical need?
I find myself confounded by this, as confounded as I am by the horror of the Crucifixion--that the Lord surrendered to the process of birth and maturation, that He entrusted Himself to the weakness and the inevitable frustrations of a developing little boy.
This is not merely the measure of love, but the measure of an overwhelming affirmation of the human condition. You have been a child, so I became a child. That seems to be what the Infant in Mary's arms is saying to me. No wonder He can later say with such conviction in Matthew 18: "Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." He had become a child, quite literally and completely, to enter the Kingdom of Humankind.
I found myself dazzled by this as I thought of it this morning. I was dazzled by His long journey from babyhood to manhood, dazzled by the tenderness of those little hands and little feet.
Nothing short of magnificent. Anne Rice threatens to teach me how to love God again as I should. I can only say with a great fullness of heart and aching, yearning--hank you for this birthday gift you have given me and everyone who chances to read it. What a real blessing, what a vulnerable sharing.