Faith ‘n’ Fiction Saturday is a weekly event hosted by Amy at My Friend Amy. Each week Amy posts a different question or topic, having to do with faith in fiction, for people to blog about. This month, several bloggers read Wounded: A Love Story by Claudia Mair Burney. We then participated in a round table discussion via e-mail. Each one of us is posting a portion of the discussion, so you will need to click over to the other participants’ blogs to read the whole thing.
Here’s the plot synopsis from Amazon so you’ll have an idea of what the book is about:
If a miracle happened to you, wouldn’t you tell everyone? What if they thought you were crazy?
Poor in health but rich in faith, Gina Merritt—a young, broke, African-American single mother—sits in a pew on Ash Wednesday and has a holy vision. When it fades, her palms are bleeding. Anthony Priest, the junkie sitting beside her, instinctively touches her when she cries out, but Gina flees in shock and pain. A prize-winning journalist before drugs destroyed his career, Anthony is flooded with a sense of well-being and knows he is cured of his addiction. Without understanding why, Anthony follows Gina home to find some answers. Together they search for an answer to this miraculous event and along the way they cross paths with a skeptical evangelical pastor, a gentle Catholic priest, a certifiable religious zealot, and an over-sized transvestite drug dealer, all of whom lend their opinion. It’s a quest for truth, sanity, and grace – and an unexpected love story.
This book was a perfect pick for a round table discussion – it stuck with me for a long time and gave us lots of things to talk about, as you can see from the conversation below. Be sure to check out the other participants’ blogs to read the discussion in its entirety.
Carrie: .. the thing that bothered me the most.
There were several instances where Gina called Jesus her “lover” or “husband.” I know that Jesus is the Bridegroom, and the Church is his bride – but church collectively, not as individual people. There were times when she talked about praying to Jesus to “come be her husband” that made me very uncomfortable. There seemed to be an underlying sensuality to her relationship with God that just seemed wrong. Am I the only one who had this reaction?
Hannah: And now to the theological point Carrie raised, about Jesus being Bridegroom to an individual. I can agree that in the Evangelical church(es) I grew up in, that yes, we’re taught Jesus’ role of Bridegroom corresponds only to the collective Bride, the Church. But American Evangelicalism is very bad at understanding and conveying the collective, too; in fact, it’s very individual-centered. When a woman becomes a nun, she’s said to be marrying God (individually). Such a concept isn’t absent in modern day Protestantism, either. While I’m all for good theology — can you point out where the Bible states Jesus isn’t/can’t be Bridegroom to an individual bride, though? (It may well be there and I’m just forgetting.) — is this a major theological sticking point? I know there’s a difference between wants and needs, but can’t our “God who shall supply all your needs” fill (or remove) that longing for a man, too?
Amy: I was wondering if someone would bring up the sexually charged way she talked about God! This definitely struck me as something very unique to this book and that surprised me a Christian publishing house took a chance on it, but thankful, too.
This does not bother me. I think there’s something very honest in this expression. After all, I think we use this kind of language all the time. Not to be too frank here, but I think a lot of modern worship music really incorporates language that could be seen as being sexually charged. And the concept of Jesus as lover is not new to me. I think, for me, the key to this is summed up in the part where she says,
“I know things about Jesus just because I’ve suffered. Sometimes I wonder if suffering isn’t a secret initiation into a special kind of intimacy with God…….I can’t speak for all suffering only mine. Fibro and bipolar are crosses. Jesus knows all about those. He enters into my suffering because He’s been there, and He makes it bearable…I mean He comes to me without fail. He turns my bed of affliction into a marriage bed and loves me there.”
I think we really equate the marriage bed with intimacy and I think that’s the point that Burney is really illustrating here…suffering gives us a kind of intimacy with God we can’t have otherwise. So using Jesus as intimate lover to really illustrate this made complete sense to me, and I think there’s precedent for it if you look at the lives of the Christian mystics.
Debbie: The main reason I am interested in reading more faith fiction is I enjoy being inspired. However “Wounded” left me feeling very disappointed and disheartened. As it was supposedly reflecting a Christian point of view, I expected Christ to be esteemed. Instead I felt He was an object of some sort of sensual experience and an object of human manipulation.
Carrie: First, to Hannah – yes, I definitely agree that Jesus can remove an individual person’s need for a husband. Maybe I didn’t phrase my concerns very well. I wholeheartedly believe that God can be like a husband to a single person – filling the needs a husband would fill, taking away the need for a man – except for the need/desire for sexual intimacy. Sex between a husband and wife was designed as a picture of the One-ness relationship between Jesus and the Church. I don’t believe we were meant to have a sexualized, sensual relationship with Jesus. Am I making sense?
And, yes, as Amy mentioned, there is precedent in the viewpoint of Jesus as intimate lover in the lives of the mystics, but is there precedent in the Bible? I’m just not sure.
Hannah: Carrie said: “I don’t believe we were meant to have a sexualized, sensual relationship with Jesus.” Yes, this makes sense. I fully agree with this: “Sex between a husband and wife was designed as a picture of the One-ness relationship between Jesus and the Church.” I think here’s the point of disagreement: “God can be like a husband to a single person – filling the needs a husband would fill, taking away the need for a man – except for the need/desire for sexual intimacy.” Here’s my question: Why would God be capable of filling all those needs except one? I don’t think you actually mean that God is incapable. So I’ll rephrase: Why would God leave one need unmet?
Maybe this is part of the struggle, too: While I agree Gina talked in a sensual way about Jesus, it didn’t feel overly sexual to me.
Carrie: Hannah – you’re right, I didn’t phrase it the right way. Of course, God can fulfill that need in a single person’s life – in the meaning of taking the need away, or making the person satisfied with God as all-sufficient. But I don’t think He would satisfy it in a way that would give a person sexual feelings toward Christ. Does that make more sense?
Heather: One thing I want to say on the issue of intimacy with Jesus – I personally don’t “get” that. I’m not offended by it, it didn’t make me uncomfortable, but I just cannot wrap my brain around the idea of Jesus as lover. However, one of my best friends is a Catholic nun, and when she was discerning, we asked her a million questions about all the things she would be missing out on, and the idea of marriage and family was one of the things I had a hard time with her giving up on. But she always said that she was going to marry Jesus, and He would be her partner for the rest of this life and into the next. I can’t say that I fully understand that, but I realize that the idea of Jesus as bridegroom has been around forever, and I don’t feel that I have to fully comprehend the idea to accept it.
Amy: Also, because I don’t feel like I explained my feelings on the bridegroom of Christ well enough, I want to try again. It’s not that I think Gina had sexual feelings towards Jesus (how would this be possible anyway? we don’t know Him in physical form) it’s that I think it’s the best way for her to express the intimacy she feels. I understand why this might make someone uncomfortable, but I guess it doesn’t bother me. Sex is the most intimate expression of love between two people, and it stands to reason that when you feel intimate with God, you might use these terms to express it. I still don’t feel like I’m explaining myself well.