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“Over a pit of grasping demons:” Novelist Anne Rice’s faith journey

June 23, 2014

I had just finished writing the piece below about a book I enjoyed, and was excited as I prepared to share it on my blog. Then I did some more research and realized things had changed for Anne Rice. First you’ll find the blog post as I originally wrote it, and then a postscript.

christ the lord book

I first met Anne Rice through the pages of Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. I loved it and wondered more about what had propelled her to write a book that seemed like a book inspired by deep Christian faith. I’m not a fan of vampire type books or much in the way of fantasy, so her rich backlist of best selling novels of those genres, and awareness of the novelist herself, had largely passed me by.

Return to Cana

Later I read her second Christ the Lord book called The Road to Cana. It too was refreshing, gripping and “masterful” according to reviewers. “Simply rendered holiness,” said The New York Times.

Who is Anne Rice and what does she believe? Now we can know some of that through her spiritual memoir, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession published in 2008.

Called out of darkness

Yeah, I’m late in the game and would never have picked this up had a copy of it not shown up in the Little Free Library, a movement I wrote about here.

The book starts out slowly with many reflections in passive past tense, “Another important element of my childhood was radio;” and “I remember …”– a little too filled with repetitious lines of her early memories of her Catholic upbringing in the very Catholic city of New Orleans, dripping in cathedrals, statuary, stained glass, flickering candles.

 

Lent

But for anyone who is Catholic, or has had a Catholic or formerly Catholic friend or family member, or likes any of Anne Rice’s 28 novels, it slowly sucks you in. This great wordsmith and storyteller was not much of a reader in childhood, nor well into adulthood, and in fact struggled with reading even in college. She says it was the visual aspect of her church background that communicated and formed her first inklings of faith, long before she could read. She writes about her dedicated, loving and film/art buff mother who was nevertheless desperately alcoholic, and the too early death of her own daughter. All this and more begins to enmesh you like a good novel with an unfolding, engaging plot. I enjoyed her fierce and surprising rejection of childhood (she didn’t like to be considered a child), and descriptions of her developing career as a writer.

Called Out of Darkness gradually becomes one of the most astounding faith testimonies of our times (but who am I to say that, I’m not a prolific leisure reader because I have to read so much for my job but keep plugging away at leisure reading when traveling or mostly before bedtime). I say astounding in that as Rice herself says, for a liberal Berkley (California) atheist for much of her adult life to return to Christian faith at the age of 57—well it gives me hope and faith for just about anyone. She details how the interior work of her own faith journey played out in the dark characters and plots of some of her novels.

I will not spoil a reading of the book for anyone else by revealing more of her journey except to say, in her words, a little of what her faith has come to mean for her, and can speak to us all of what is needed in this day of such raking conflict and controversy in the church universal:

“The more I study the New Testament, the more I see the contradictions enshrined within it. But I see something else there too. We have been a quarreling religion from the beginning, born out of an earlier quarreling religion—Judaism—and in a sense the New Testament enshrines us as such very clearly, with no easy solution as to how we handle our quarrels or the contradictory passages except that we must love! The voice of Christ speaks so loudly in the Sermon the Mount that surely it downs out those passages that urge us to condemn or to shun. But how is one to say so for sure?

To accept the canon [of the Bible] means to accept all of the canon. And that means there will be no easy resolution ever, and that learning to live with this tension, in love, is what we must do.

This may come across as simplistic. It is not simplistic. It is life changing and endlessly difficult and the steadfast determination to love is threatened at every moment. We walk a tightrope over a pit of grasping demons when we insist upon love. And sometimes we walk alone.

The more I study this, the more I listen to people around me talk about their experience with Jesus Christ and with religion, the more I realize as well that what drives people away from Christ is the Christian who does not know how to love. A string of cruel words from a Christian can destroy another Christian.”

And she goes on. I tell you, the book is rich and redeeming and hope-filled. She is as dedicated of Christian as my mother (and both of them would be quick to admit and confess their sins and shortcomings).

Anne Rice, thank you for writing this book, for sharing your faith and your story. It is a story for thinking persons anywhere—for those who are willing to go to the hard places and ask the unanswerable questions about God and faith and Jesus, and say with the father in Mark 9 who said in asking Jesus to heal his son, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Postscript

Right before I posted the above, I learned that a few years ago Ann Rice had “recanted” so to speak and moved more to a position of secular humanism, or so said Wikipedia. Rice also calls it belief in a higher power.  

I couldn’t help but be severely disappointed by this twist. I felt sucker punched (and a little behind on the news). I’m sure I heard the news at the time but it didn’t mean much to me not having read her memoir at that time. I thought of the line from her book which I quoted above, “A string of cruel words from a Christian can destroy another Christian.” Undoubtedly that has been part of what played as she met with criticism from some for her activist stances.

I still love her two Christ the Lord books (and I’m happy to hear there is a movie in production stages). Of course our faith is always evolving, is it not? In 2010, she said in The Christian Century she still believed in Christ, but was separating herself from the Christian church.  In a story on NPR in 2010) she said she didn’t think she would ever return to writing vampire novels (but subsequently did a string of werewolf books), and now in 2014 a new vampire book is slated for publication in October.

I will move on, and let others decide for themselves whether this book is still worth reading as a memoir and history. I have come to be wary of ever placing my trust or Christian faith in the hands of others who might disappoint me, especially in the hands of well known authors, politicians, trusted spokespersons, even pastors.

Perhaps Anne and all of us could pray with the father in Mark 9 “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

P1040515

 

***

Have you ever been disappointed by the actions or statements of a “public person” in terms of your own faith beliefs? What happened and how did you deal with it?

***

If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear your response to them.

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