Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Transformation of Life

The Transfiguration of Life

It must be a year or so now since I read Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road.” The book is the kind that has smoldered in my mind ever since I read the last and wondrous pages. It is the story about a father and his son, making their way across a lifeless America. Some kind of a nuclear horror has destroyed nearly everything that once lived – save for scattered humans who survive by scavenging for cans of food in abandoned shelters, ruined houses and cities. The father and son are heading for the coast and use a shopping cart to store their meager belongings. The prose is lean. The road is long and dangerous – the father will shield his son from threats of murder, scenes of cannibalism and other horrors that await them as they move across the land.
The end of the book is redemptive and holds a promise. But I won’t spoil it for you by going into detail. In the spare, meager language there are embers of redemption right from the start, which burst into flame in the closing scene.
Not long ago I asked a group in the retreat house if they had read the novel and a few people said yes. One woman looked at me and said she hated the book. She got a third of the way through it and stopped reading. “The violence was mindlessly prevalent,” she said. And she was partly right. McCarthy is not a mindless writer. The novel deserves a full read – the seeming mindlessness orbits around a warm center of a love that lives amidst desolation.
The novel is devoid of frills. All that we know that normally gives some human comfort to life is stripped – or nuked – away. The father and his son namelessly and slowly make their way through lifeless places, where the only human encounters are harbingers of death, save for the last scene of the last chapter. I suppose the woman in the retreat house needed a different kind of novel, perhaps the kind that has a redemptive angle on every page. She did not read “The Road.” She walked away from it and in doing so she is not unlike a tendency many of us have when it comes to the road that is life. We do not know how to incorporate into redemptive patterns the horrors that we know happen every day. They are as real a part of life’s road as those experiences that move us to keep turning life’s pages in some kind of anticipation for a happy ending.
I wish that woman had made her way through to the end of the book. For it is only the end that sheds some light on all that went before. The closing pages are really an opening, a new promise, a kind of revelatory gift that makes all that went before bearable and, more importantly, redemptive.
The Transfiguration is at first a summons to the heights and the call is soon followed by the sight of a transfigured Jesus. Its light shines on and past the disciples, down into the myriad and seemingly unsure roads of history. The disciples would walk these roads and would know all that await us on them, including depravity and death. But they walked, keeping hope in the light at the end, which would be embraced as a beginning.

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