Called Out Of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession
Anne Rice is one of the most well known contemporary authors. Her books, many dealing with the supernatural, the gothic and the mystical, have topped the bestseller lists for the past thirty years. After the publication of "Blood Canticle" in 2003, she walked away from the world of vampires and witches and devoted her talents to writing for Christ. It was at this same time that she returned, after a thirty eight year absence, to her own personal faith. Called Out Of Darkness: A Spiritual Convession is the story of her birth in faith and her journey into atheism and back again.
Even if you don't consider yourself to be a religious person - even if you are not a Christian - read this book. Anyone can appreciate the message contained in "Called Out of Darkness." It appealed to me especially because it is a thinking person's approach to faith. There is never a point in her journey where Ms. Rice accepted givens. She never ceases to question the dictums of her church or for that matter the dictums of her atheism.
From a literary standpoint, "Called Out Of Darkness" is typical Anne Rice. Lush descriptions and a sense of the visual make the words come alive, filling every paragraph. Rice's prose has always been evocative and captivating and this work is no exception. Describing events from out of her childhood in New Orleans to her life in California, her words convey a sense of time, place, atmosphere and emotion in an easy and readable way that few other writers can replicate.
In "Called Out of Darkness," Rice frequently discusses her difficulty acquiring the ability to read - both as a child and as an adult - a weakness in her mind, but in my mind possibly a gift. The difficulty of thinking in words forced Rice to think in images and it is this profound imagery that makes her writing so appealing. Her sense of the auditory and the visual dominates her writing.
In her youth, the Catholic Church was a major force in her life. She was born and raised in a predominately Catholic neighborhood in New Orleans with very little exposure to non-Catholics until, as a teenager, she moved to Texas. She writes of her love of going to church as a child and the emphasis of God as part of the household that her parents instilled into her. It wasn't until young adulthood that she realized that because she was a woman, there were barriers put in front of her as regards her life in the Church. It was these barriers that caused her to turn away from the Catholic Church and ultimately from faith in general.
One of the things that impresses me about Rice is that at no point in time does she refer to her years as an atheist as a "black" period. She accepts her life for what it was, and if anything, her time away from the church helped her find her faith in a stronger and more grounded way. "Called Out of Darkness" focuses mostly on her youth and her return to faith. The years in between are covered adequately, but they are not what the book is about. This book was never intended to be a blow by blow memoir of her life, rather it is a portrait of a spiritual journey.
Many times, memoirs can be self-absorbed and often writers see themselves through rose-colored glasses. Rice is very aware of her own flaws and the mistakes she has made in her life as well as her own graces and talents and she treats them all equally. In coming into her faith, Rice has learned to accept her life the way it is and to work every day to learn to love her fellow humans.
Rice, admittedly, has always been fascinated by history rather than current times and she chronicles both her early learning of religion as a child and her research as an adult in preparing to write about Christ. In the last chapter of the memoir, she chides herself for entering in to the realm of religion blindly without knowing what was happening in the Catholic Church and the current ecclesiastical climate. It is her answer to this, in the last chapter, that I admire most about the book.
"Centuries ago, the stars were sacred. A man could be burnt at the stake for declaring that the earth revolved around the sun. Churchmen feared that if astronomers gained authority over the Heavens, Scripture would be undermined.
But no such thing took place. Scripture is too great, too powerful, too fathomless for such a thing to take place.
Now the Christian world holds the stars to be secular . . . .Is it not possible for us to do with gender, sexuality and reproduction what was long ago done with the stars?"
And at another point, Rice writes,
"Try as I might, I can find nothing in Holy Scripture that supports this contemporary obsession with sex and gender on the part of our conservative churches. In fact, the more I study Scripture, the more amazed I am to discover that Jesus Christ Himself cared nothing about gender at all."
"The more I study this, the more I listen to people around me talk about their experience with Jesus Christ and with religion, the more I realize as well that what drives people away from Christ is the Christian who does not know how to love. A string of cruel words from a Christian can destroy another Christian."
It is wonderful to hear these words from someone who has embraced faith. As both a gay man and a Catholic, I especially empathize with Rice's abandonment with her faith. And as a Catholic, I completely understand her return to the Church; it is a spiritual home that is very difficult to leave behind forever. But it is a spiritual home which is very difficult to live in when you are vilified for who you love. My hope is that Rice's words of love and tolerance and understanding will have influence and help start the movement of gender, sexuality and reproduction out of the sacred world and into the secular, so that we may all find our spiritual home in whatever church and whatever faith we choose to practice.
Alfred A. Knopf Publishers. $23.95. In stores October 7th, 2008. 256 pages. Available wherever books are sold or online through Amazon.