Last night I finished reading Anne Rice's book, Christ the Lord - Out of Egypt. For those of you unfamiliar with her, she is the author of some 27 well-researched historical fiction books with usually dark supernatural elements, her most famous one being Interview With The Vampire which was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Her author's note at the end of the book I just read is almost as revelatory as the story itself. After being raised a devout Catholic, then becoming an atheist for most of her adult life, she began to research the historical Jesus and was challenged to dedicate the remainder of her writing career to him. She had an epiphany that this story, this man, this God, was the one she had been looking for all along. As she says in an interview, she now lives in the light.
It is a very restrained book and I took my time reading it, not wanting to race through the pages lest I miss some nuance, some fresh way of seeing things, in the telling of this familiar story. She has done and continues to do more research on this time period than I will ever do, and I admire that and want to learn from it.
Near the end of the book, I read a paragraph that made my head and heart and spirit and whole inner being soften with a gentle conviction. It provoked an immediate repentance. Let me quote it (don't worry, it won't spoil anything in the book for you). These are the words of Mary, his mother, after they find the 8-year-old Jesus at the Temple where he had disappeared for a few days, giving his parents a fright.
And now you come home with us to Nazareth. Not back to the Temple. Oh, I know how much you want to stay at the Temple. I know. But no. The Lord in Heaven did not send you to the house of a Teacher in the Temple or a priest in the Temple or a scribe or a rich Pharisee. He sent you to Joseph bar Jacob, the carpenter, and his betrothed, Mary of the House of David in Nazareth. And you come home to Nazareth with us. - Anne Rice, Christ the Lord - Out of Egypt
I have always felt a bit at odds with where I come from. I feel slightly out of place when I go back to the Mennonite community where I grew up. I do believe I had the best childhood in the whole world and a magnificent family, but they struggled to understand me sometimes. There were just not that many artistic, spontaneous, emotive, mystic, adventurous free-thinkers in that small farming community. While some of my creative exploits were admired and tolerated, it was hardly seen as a viable lifestyle. More of something that one should grow out of. Unfortunately, I also developed some bad habits during my formative years, such as conservatism and judging people that were not like me. And some deep fears were planted in my young soul. These attitudes were all around me, and I did not have the wisdom to say no to them. All of us come from a mixed background like this, where good traits are mixed in with some shortcomings, so I am not picking on any one people group here. What others did during my childhood is not the point. The issue is how I responded to my environment, the attitudes I adopted, and my lack of submission to what God brought into my life.
He had me born into a conservative family, placed in the middle of a rather strict religious community, and isolated from much of what I would have loved to pursue, especially in the arts. And He was not ignorant or mean in doing this. God carefully and lovingly gave me this childhood and heritage. There were things for me to learn there that I could not learn anywhere else. I know I am still discovering them. The only time I do not learn is when I get stubborn, ungrateful, impatient, and proud.
Last night I lay in bed and breathed my repentance for looking down on my humble background and thanked God for every bit of my childhood circumstances, even those things I would have preferred to be different. Somehow, a carpenter's home was the place for Jesus to become a mature man of God and the greatest teacher in history. It was not in the household of a wise rabbi as might have seemed logical. And in the same way, a small, simple and somewhat isolated and restrictive community was the place for me to start to become the best creative thinker and artist that I could be. My heart is full of gratitude for this grace and my eyes get watery when I begin to sense what a great mercy this was and still is. What a mistake I have made in not wholly submitting to such a loving hand.
This is the prairie landscape near Winnipeg, Manitoba, on a visit home in December 2006.