This Is Why I Came
A NoveleBook - 2015
The result is an amazing book of extraordinary beauty, so human and humorous, and yet so holy it becomes a work of poetry, a canticle, a song of lament and praise. In the private terrain of silence and devotion, shared with us by a writer of power and grace, Rakow offers, through Bernadette, her own lectio divina for the modern world.
No reader will forget this book or be able to read the Bible itself without a new perspective on this text that remains, arguably, Western civilization's greatest literary achievement.
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“I don’t feel I’m committing a sin that I can’t believe in God anymore. I can’t will it. What happened, happened. But I really wish it would change. This why I came.” She wants her integrity and her faith, both at the same time, and Jonah smiles, the breathing of the whale … He wonders if, on one day at one hour, she yelled the same thing at God, “Let me go! I’m no longer your prophet! I want to be a sailor.” “It’s not a sin to refuse to believe in a God who’s too small,” he replies and his certainty touches her. “To doubt the God you believe in is to serve him. It’s an offering. It’s your gift.”
Jonah had also grown hardened by all the deaths he had witnessed. It sat heavy on him at first, but then he grew indifferent, immoveable, his heart so cold that he could see suffering and feel nothing, see his own child fall and feel nothing, see his wife mourning the death of her mother and feel nothing, the widower next door who often had no bread, no oil for his lamp, and feel nothing.
She told him she often heard terms she did not know: autopsy, dissection … airborne pathogens, … and saw new jobs with new names like “surgeon,” “nurse,” … Galen, Lister, Pasteur, Charcot … She told him she’d named this vision that would save others like herself, “Medicine, the Beautiful Science.” And Jesus said, “It’s the future.” At this, she wept.
There would be no more pregnancies. She and Joseph felt unable to be sexual, unable to risk more unhappiness, unable to find in the body of the other either pleasure or solace. The table he built lay almost empty and more children would not come. Over the years he would take the leaves and chop them to kindling.
When he (Joseph) prayed, which was rare, it was to tell God, in case he’d forgotten, “Send me no more of your dreams.”
“People don’t become martyrs because they want to be heroic,” his aunt (Elizabeth) instructed him. “They become martyrs because they love something or someone to a heroic degree.”
Mary (Magdalen) drew near the cross and again thought, the erotic and the spiritual are one hunger. She drew closer and heard, “Your father died and your mother turned you out But Mary, look at me and see. It isn’t true that you were never loved.”
Veronica thought, this has nothing to do with me. She did not want a miracle. She wanted her boyfriend to have found her beautiful in her bridal dress.
And when he (God) considered man, his anger was unstoppable. “You always want one more thing. But I don’t have one more thing! There’s just me. If I gave you myself, you’d find fault with me, too.”
When he (Abraham) took their first child and returned alone, Sarah wanted her child back but not her husband. Each time, again and again, she loved him less, then despised him, then hatred.
And God was happy and no longer vexed with his people because he gave them all that they craved and told himself, “They will remember my kindness and will know that they are my people and I am their God.”
From that day on, she (Mary) resolved to pray hourly for all of creation, the reptiles and insects, the flowers and birds, for those she loved and for those she did not love.
Jesus cried out to his father, “Why have you forsaken me?” And God said to the underworlds, “Take him, he’s yours.” Hearing this, Jesus breathed his last. God hid behind the sun, saying, “It’s is true, then. I am not merciful.”
As they buried Jesus in the tomb, God imagined an earlier world, with just the land and sea and heavens and plants, the creatures that had no heart at all. He wondered if he should return to that state, abandon his project entirely, that long hope. But he still wanted what he’d always most wanted, which was to be loved not for his power or his omniscience but for his mercy. And for that, he needed man. The ferns could never know his mercy or be grateful for it …
Some would believe that he (Joseph) and Mary never married but remained betrothed only. Some, that he was old when they met, she a child and he a mere guardian. For many, that they had never had sec, much less enjoyed and then missed it, a castrating thought. Worst, to a few, he would be seen as a willing cuckold, letting others devotedly love his wife more intimately than he had and this hurt the most.
That night all two thousand monks had the same dream, They learned this the next morning, comparing notes. The details varied somewhat, but each found himself …
As she aged and death approached, Mary tried to read the book of her life. In silence and modesty, in the absence of thins most powerful. She had intended to paint the glorious mysteries of her son’s life. When he walked on water, when he left the tomb, when he appeared to the disciples on the shore after his death. To paint him in his glory and around him scenes of his life, but instead she painted humbler ones. When Joseph lifted her onto the donkey. When they stopped for shade and he brought grapes from a basket, when they ate together under a tree, gathering wildflowers and berries. Joseph in his first workshop building a large table they never used. The birthday party when he reminded her they were a holy family. She painted her husband at Golgatha, even though she hadn’t seen him there and had heard nothing from him in years. And on his head, she painted a nimbus. What survives? She wondered. Love and the memory of grapes.
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