Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Violence of Story

In my favorite novels, it seems that the characters come to the moment of illumination only after being confronted with great violence.  When Jane Eyre finds her former home and master have suffered a fire in her absence, the agony of separation inspires her to the realization that she loves Mr. Rochester.  In The Lord of the Flies, it takes the death of a comrade for Ralph to understand that the boys on the island have lost their childhood innocence.  And it is not until author Annie Dillard wrestles with the life-altering plane accident of a small girl (in Holy the Firm) that she sees God’s goodness in a crazy world.

It seems to be human nature to have thick heads that only extreme circumstances can penetrate.  In a state of comfort, we are sometimes too relaxed, too unmindful to learn what our lives actually depend on.  But if our child unexpectedly gets sick, our husband is laid off, or our friend is going through a messy divorce, suddenly our senses are awakened and sharpened in a way that lets us experience life a little clearer. 

In the face of violence or tragedy, our daily concerns rearrange themselves according to an eternal reality.  When something goes suddenly wrong, the urgency of the situation mercifully clears away any petty anxieties that once occupied us.  And that is some small grace.  Coming home from a funeral last month of a friend I’d known from elementary school, I found myself suddenly careless about the work I needed to catch up on and the wedding planning I had been stressing over. Instead I wondered whether or not I spent enough time with the people I loved, and then hurried home so I would make it in time for family dinner. 

I heard Shauna Niequist, author of Cold Tangerines, say once, “You pray for honest, gritty, and tender stories, and then you pray to live through them.” The price of epiphany is often violence, and any prayer beginning with, “God, change me…” is a dangerous one.  Anyone who has ever prayed to know our Father better knows.  But with the violence we are ushered into grace, just as there is grace in the story of the Light of the World who had to suffer death and darkness before mankind could see.


  1. Great job on today's post!

    I just finished reading a book that so brilliantly reminded me that evil IS real, but God's grace and love for us is even more real. I could insert many scriptures here! :) In reading the book I was overwhelmed by the grief of the main character and how the wicked were able to commit one violent act after another. By the ending, I was amazed to see how God used even the wicked and the awful things that had happened to bring the main character into a relationship with Him.

  2. Hi Denise, now you've got me curious, which book was that? It is an interesting theme. I actually took a course in college that was titled, "Violence and Grace in the Novel" in which we studied the effect of grace in tragic or disastrous circumstances. It is amazing to see how God can transform even such!

  3. I read the Joyce Meyer book, Any minute which I think really illustrates how it sometimes takes a boulder to fall on your head before you realize that life on earth is momentary and a training ground for etrnity. It was a gripping novel and makes the reader ask - why do I sweat the small stuff.

  4. I think sometimes in order to get us on the right track with God, the only time our attention can be caught and turned towards God. We get so caught up in the everyday stuff and sometimes have a tendancy to take our focus off of our God. Sometimes the only way to get our focus back on God is for us to take the focus on something else. Sometimes that tradegy is the only thing that will take the focus off the wrong things and change us and form us to focus onto God. I pray that we keep our eyes focused on God and not on the things in life that keep our focus off of Him.


  5. Good post! I could relate way too much!

  6. Ghostwriter, by Travis Thrasher. I am not usually interested in horror, but, I trust the author. And I am not disappointed.

  7. steph.
    as always, beautiful thoughts.


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