D - Despair and Dogma

Thou has made me, and shall Thy work decay?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste;
I run to death, and death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday. 
I dare not move my dim eyes any way; 
Despair behind, and death before doth cast 
Such terror, and my feeble flesh doth waste 
By sin in it, which it towards hell doth weigh. 
Only Thou art above, and when towards Thee 
By Thy leave I can look, I rise again; 
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me, 
That not one hour myself I can sustain. 
Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art 
And thou like adamant draw mine iron heart. 
john donne

 This is the third post I have made on this topic, so it seems it must be important to me.  The first post I did on Adamantine and the poor in spirit was Noonday Devil, and back in January I wrote One Thousand Disappointments about what we glean from God when he closes his hand against what we ask for.  It seems like every turn I take in my walk among the saints' and God's minds I run into some new plot twist that takes me by surprise (Rahab? a respectable harlot? only he would think of that story-line) and a recurring theme I am noticing in my writing is that of faith-in-the-dark.  It is a theme I find throughout redemptive history, and as it seems so popular among his story-line, I was pleased to discover its entrenchment in my literature.

There's something a bit happy, and something a bit sad
In the faces of the men that God touched mad.

When it comes to heartache and loss and the-bottom-of-the-barrel, Adamantine is no exception.  The characters come at their harsh life with naivete, bitterness, confusion, and hatred, and an almost blind clutching at a hope of a faith in God.  They have their feet knocked out from under them, their lives and honour and sanity hung in the balance, at times all light cut off from view.  In short, they experience despair.  Where is God in the horrible universe and can he possibly hear, or want to hear, the feeble call of a soul so crushed it does not even know if it wants to call for help?  His saints do not walk on air, surrounded by a safe halo of light: they are thrown headlong into the carnage of war - and sometimes they seem to fight impossible odds alone.  And his silence can be so crushing.

I cannot make a claim to having weathered a cataclysm of life and faith.  I do not know experientially what it is like to "look round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished" and to have to trust blindly in the Lord's track record of faithful dealings with his people.  But I have seen it.  It is all through his self-revelation: that there is a living God, and that my Redeemer does live.  And I have seen that, though some of us know that God is faithful, he sometimes tests that faith so that we, too (and perhaps the invisible hosts watching, as in the case of Job) might know our faith is founded on something lasting.  He took Abraham to the brink and taught that old father of nations that yes, indeed, he did believe God was able to raise up Isaac even from the dead.  The faith which had lain smoldering on the central hearth of Abraham's life was proved to Abraham himself to be a bright and abiding flame.  It was as though God were saying to his servant, "See?  I have brought you thus far, and though you never saw the work I was working in you even until now, you see the work is strong and very good.  It will last.  I have made sure of that."

As an author I know that a novel has to have a compelling plot, something at stake which the reader actually cares about: but as a creator what matters to me is that the characters I have created are tried and tested and move from glory to glory.  And sometimes this means despair.  Sometimes this means clutching your head and a glass of brandy in your hands and staring out at the dark with all your moves played and nothing left to put down, and saying, "I cannot see, so see for me."

The characters do believe, and they do find a way of escape: I notice the ways are almost never orthodox, which amuses me, because God's ways are never what any of us would call orthodox either.   Those moments of utter darkness and loss and despair make their way into my novels because they can't not.  It would be lying to not have them, it would be untrue to God and men and life and the way-of-things.  But Marilla Cuthbert was right when she said that to despair was to turn one's back on God, and of course I cannot stop with the mere story of bringing a character to that nakedness and destitution of spirit.  Our dogma admits poorness of spirit, but it does not stop at that.  Nor does Adamantine.

Though worlds will die and worlds will grow 
Out of death - life 
Out of night - day, glory from sorrow 
Out of grief - joy 
Out of storm, comes strength for tomorrow 
Out of dust - gold 
Out of fire - air, comfort forsaken 
Out of rage - calm 
Out of loss, find glory awaken
wonder, lord of the rings musical

4 ripostes:

  1. I get new subplots quite often, as well. But they always seem to be when I'm praying, and I just feel like God is feeding me what ought to come next in the plotline, what he wants added or subtracted. And what can I do but obey? :)

    Oh, and despair! My feelings for despair are mixed and confusing, so I won't get into that. :) Let's just say that despair and I are friends. And perhaps a little too close. ;P

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  2. Wow. Jenny, this post reflected everything I've been thinking about my current story lately, but in a far more beautiful way than I ever could have done. In Little House in the Big Woods, there's a chapter called "The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn," and that phrase kept coming to mind as I read this.

    I was mulling over the dynamics of despair-writing the other day, and wondering if perhaps it was morbid to focus on a character's rock-bottom so much. Yet after thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that despair always has to come before joy. After all, that's the way salvation works! To have joy without depravity lessens the joy, and a story of redemption without anything to be redeemed *from* is nothing short of silly.

    "Out of storm, comes strength for tomorrow"-- I liked that.
    (Whoa, long comment--sorry about that!)

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  3. What a smashing good post, Jenny! *Rhodri hugs!*

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