Floundering in Paradise

Floundering in Paradise - Blessed non-events

"Me," Anna thought, and standing in the quiet, the sun on her face, she realized the world was new again. Or ancient once more. Loomis Lake, the fragrant pines, the edged breezes, none were touched with cruelty, pain, sickness. People- humanity- were blessedly short-lived, blessedly unimportant, truly nonevents floundering about in paradise.

These are the very last words from Nevada Barr's novel, Hard Truth. Anna, the main character, has survived the evil of a psychopathic killer. On the way through, the novel has dealt with deep issues of good and evil, and how religion can be used as an implement of repression and violence, almost as evil as the killer himself. As Karen Armstrong said in a Meaning of Life TV interview, religion is an art, and can be done very badly. In this novel we see some of the worst practice of religion.

For all the crises, (Anna barely survives with her life), she sees at the end that people- humanity- (are) blessedly short-lived, blessedly unimportant, truly nonevents floundering about in paradise. I do not find this text an "anti-human, only nature is worthwhile" kind of message. I think the fierceness of Anna's struggle to survive, and the compassion shown by herself and Heath, another major character, are testament to Nevada Barr's conviction of the worth of humanity. Indeed the transformation of the woman Heath as she escapes her self-centred misery, is a story in itself.

What Barr does in the closing lines, is establish a little context and perspective for we human beings. There is a sense that we are nonevents floundering around in paradise! We are so small. The world goes on without us and despite us. For all the damage we do, the world will survive us. Somewhere in Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm says life is not under threat, that it will go on, but we may not! This is a perspective we need.

We need it not only to help us remember our fragility as a species... we are simply one more of millions, and most die out, but also to remember our place, and the significance of our struggles. As religious people we hold faith, faith which includes a certain way of seeing life: visio faith as Marcus Borg puts it in The Heart of Christianity. This faith is that ""what is" is .... life-giving and nourishing. It has brought us and everything that is into existence. It sustains our lives. It is filled with wonder and beauty, even if sometimes a terrible beauty. To use a traditional theological term, this is seeing reality as gracious." Still dressed in the stink of horror, Anna sees that we live in a paradise. She is touched by a moment of grace.

And there is a hint of something else. Even our greatest struggles are "nonevents!" I don't think this is to be seen as saying we do not matter. But, in perspective, perhaps we should worry and struggle a little less with ourselves. Religion comes to life and enlightenment happens, Karen Armstrong suggests, as we step outside ourselves. In Hard Truth, the woman Heath regains her life as she lets go of herself and begins to step outside of her misery, and lives for others. When we see we are so small, and can glory in the paradise around us, then blessedly unimportant, perhaps we can enjoy it.

Posted 25-1-2007
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. My copy of The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg is published by eReader.com. Page numbers in an ebook vary with font and screen size, so I have not included them. Most of my references come from Chapter 4.




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