|I first read The Sparrow in 2006.|
The following post is comprised of excerpts
from a letter written to a friend shortly thereafter.
Yes, The Sparrow.
...this is a book about a bunch of Jesuits on a mission (literally) to an unknown planet; a mission which ends badly. Father Emilio Sandoz (priest, mystic, saint) is maimed, and forced into prostitution by one of the planet's most powerful inhabitants; the one whose singing, whose songs, had drawn the Jesuits there in the first place. Emilio is the only one to survive the mission and return to Earth, a broken man....
...what I loved most was the nakedly honest spirituality of it all. I loved the ecstasy of Emilio's faith and then the raw truthfulness of his fall from it. Passages like the following (page 394):
"You see, that is my dilemma. ... if I was led by God to love God, step by step, as it seemed, if I accept that the beauty and the rapture were real and true, then the rest of it was God's will too, and that ... is cause for bitterness. But if I am simply a deluded ape who took a lot of old folktales far too seriously, then I brought all this on myself and my companions and the whole business becomes farcical, doesn't it? The problem with atheism, I find, under these circumstances, ... is that I have no one to despise but myself. If, however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God."
And in the next paragraph:
"I had nothing between me and what happened but the love of God. And I was raped. I was naked before God and I was raped."
I read the sequel to The Sparrow (Children of God), and then I read A Thread of Grace, also by Mary Doria Russell, but written prior to The Sparrow. It is a historical novel, set in Italy during World War II, and follows the lives of Jewish refugees. There is a really compelling scene in it, in which a Nazi SS Officer with tuberculosis goes to a priest for confession, and the priest refuses to absolve him of his responsibility in 90,000+ deaths and then struggles with his own inability to forgive.
This reminded me of Emilio in The Sparrow (page 399) saying: "So many dead, because I believed.... Who can forgive me?"
If there is no god, then how do we live with our own culpability? Our own fragility?
If there is a god, then where is grace?