Tag Archives: God

A One-Word Controversy

hello, I have a question pertaining to, The Stuff of Stars.  I have not read it, but I just saw a posting about Ekua Holmes’ illustrator award & it brought me to some reviews. One quoted the book… “in the deep, deep dark a speck floated, invisible as thought, weighty as God,”

I thought the book was in support of the Big Bang theory, but I read the quote & wondered why God was mentioned.   I’m sure if I had the book, I’d have a better understanding.  Will you please shed some light?

Thanks!

 

Juliette

The Stuff of Stars

Dear Juliette,

Yes, I used the word God in The Stuff of Stars.  And yes, The Stuff of Stars supports scientific concepts about the way our universe came into being.  But the two are not incompatible.  Only those whose belief is so narrow that they are convinced God can’t exist unless the beautiful stories of the Bible are taken as statements of fact see science and the concept of God as incompatible.

I am not, in fact, a theist myself, but there is no word in the English language that carries more weight than the word God.  So that’s the one I chose.  “Weighty as God.”  I knew using that word would create controversy, and when my agent presented the manuscript to the editor, I had him ask her if she wanted that word to stand.  She said, “Yes.”  So the word “God” is out there, touching some readers deeply and upsetting others.  And when I go back to examine that opening line, I can’t imagine a better way to bring my readers to a feeling of awe before an unfolding universe, which is exactly what I want.

If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, check out the blogs on my website, www.mariondanebauer.com.  Scroll down through the titles of past blogs to find one called “The Stuff of Opinion.”  That touches on this same subject.

I wish you well in all ways, Juliette, and I hope this helps to answer your question.  I appreciate your taking the time to ask it.

Best,  Marion

 

I was, indeed, glad to have the question asked.  I only wish I could have answered it for a larger audience, which is why I’m bringing the discussion here.

When a book comes into the world, it takes on its own life.  Little of what happens to it or is said about it even filters back to the book’s creators.  I have had occasional hints of the hum set off by my choosing that most controversial of all words, but I have little opportunity to defend my choice.

As I said to Juliette, I am not a theist.  Much of what gets attached to the concept of God—all knowing, all powerful, judging, controlling, even loving—makes me itch.  But having grown-up in a Christian church and having once lived the better-be-quiet-about-what-you-really-believe role of a pastor’s wife, I have thought long and hard about the meaning of the word.

And I’ve come to decide, as a word person, not a theologian, that I like it.  I like it precisely because nothing has more weight in our language than the word God.  I can’t think of another that carries the same force.  Universe, when it’s used instead, doesn’t touch it.  Life force conveys the concept, but without feeling attached.

I no longer identify as Christian, but I love the Christian concept of Incarnation.  Not as a one-time event, but as an every-time event.  And I love equally Quaker theology that speaks of God in us.  The two are the same.  They tell us that human life, that all life is sacred.

These days our public schools are trying rather belatedly to maintain our constitution’s standard of the separation of church and state.  As they struggle with that task, though, I wish separation weren’t automatically equated with exclusion, with no-discussion-possible, with slam the door on all potentially “religious” words and concepts and keep it locked.  I wish The Stuff of Stars could be presented along with the question, “What do you suppose the author meant by ‘weighty as God’?  Can you think of some other comparison that would work as well?”

I can’t, but certainly others will.

And so I used the God-word in a picture book.  I used it, not being a believer myself in any traditional sense, in order to present a vision of our Universe as vital, alive, holy.

A vision that might even save our fragile existence on this planet if we only take it seriously enough.

 

The Forbidden Topic … Religion

stained glass windowLast week I took on same-sex marriage. While I’m on a roll, I might as well talk about religion, too.

There aren’t many topics forbidden to those who write for young people these days. Especially if the audience is defined as young adult, writers can take on sex, violence, racism, social taboos, war . . . you name it. And sometimes we can even tiptoe into religion.

Religion has long been a topic of passionate interest to me. And not just because I was married to an Episcopal priest for 28 years. Being a clergy wife doesn’t necessarily bring a person closer to religion, only to the inner workings of the institutional church, which is a very different thing.

I spent decades trying to locate God in books. I read philosophy and theology, of course. But there was something about most books advertised up front as being about God that sent me away still searching. Most of the authors, even when they seemed to be asking hard questions, were still defending an institution, a creed, a professional retirement plan. And especially as a clergy wife who understood too well the inner workings of that kind of commitment, I was seldom impressed.

So I set out instead to search for God in novels. I didn’t look for novels about God. That would be an impossibly short list. A suspect one, even, were it to exist. Rather I read serious, interesting, moving fiction and waited for characters to drop a word here or there about their perception of God. When that happened, I was mesmerized, as though a deep secret were about to be revealed. And some of those passing comments have stuck like burrs.

In a Saul Bellow novel—I no longer remember which one—a character says, “God isn’t sex, but . . .” And he left his musing—and me—to dangle. That phrase stills bubbles up in my mind from time to time. “God isn’t sex, but . . .” What was he saying? That the deep experience of sexual love is one way of approaching God? (Wow! That’s an idea that would set our Puritan foreparents spinning!)

Fiction has always seemed to me the perfect vehicle for struggling with hard questions: about our families, about our social norms, about our purpose on this earth, about God. And fiction intended for those who are just growing into those kinds of questions themselves has the perfect audience. The only problem lies in a writer’s inevitable awareness of the adults peering at the book over those young, inquiring heads.

I never write with the intention of offending. I want only to talk honestly about what feels important to me. But the reality is that honest talk about what is important inevitably will offend someone.

I have never met a child who felt he was damaged by one of my stories, though it’s true that I have met only a small fraction of my readers. (I have met a number, at least through teacher-required letters, who told me they were bored or otherwise poorly served by something I’d written, which is a different matter entirely.) I have, however, had encounters with adults who found a story of mine damaging to young minds. And sometimes those adults have ordered an entire class of children to write to tell me, for instance, that my use of bad words, damn and hell, in On My Honor offended them deeply. So I’m well aware that it is the adults who hold power here, not the kids I’m writing for.

Can I challenge traditional religious thinking, truly challenge it, and not find myself on the black list I barely escaped when I chose to let Am I Blue? bring me out as a “practicing” lesbian? (I’ve always loved that word, “practicing.” I wonder if one day I’ll get it right.)

I only know that I enter each of my stories with my soul bared, asking the hard questions, foregoing the easy answers. And after all these years of searching for God in other people’s stories, it seems time to see what I can discover in my own.