… one which I liken to a pebble tossed into still water… the ripples spread wide, beyond the confines of the book and let me see things I had not seen before. The letter is from Brett Shand.
Just some random thoughts. Memories, ideas and dreams triggered by your book. I’ll read it again soon and things will no doubt things will become clearer.
So … I’ve just finished reading ‘The Disestablishment of Paradise.’ I like it very much. It is a tale, almost a myth, for our times and one that still, may the gods help us, needs to be told over and over again. A while ago I travelled to choir practice in a car with a man who was very loudly telling everyone how everything about climate change was a lie, a conspiracy of the lefties, that there were twenty-thousand research papers to prove his point. You have no doubt heard him. The sadness was that his strident opposition made his terror that his safety and his world were dissolving about him very clear. My heart broke for him; what a way to live. He needs this book. We all do.
For me, you have waded into deep and dark waters. Many years ago now an Anglican minister said to me (and others) that the great division in the world was between those who needed beliefs and those who wanted faith. That rang bells with me. To hold a set of beliefs and not become a “true-believer” is very difficult; to not step over the line that divides “I believe” and “My beliefs are right and therefore you are wrong” and so enlivening all the evils that spring from that. Faith requires doubt, because it is doubt that keeps faith a living thing, constantly changing and responding to us and our world and the universe. But to live in that space of faith and doubt is also very difficult. The ambivalence and the ambiguities that are there make it a place where great courage and compassion (especially for ourselves) are needed. Which brings us to the book and me. Over the years, starting from when I was about two, I have had a number experiences that have left me with a deep feeling of connection to … what? Your ‘Paradise’ explores that ‘what.’ The faith – along with the deep and sometimes agonizing doubt I have – that everything is connected. The “deep root” of Paradise is the way I want things to be but I am not at all sure that it is. Ah, the troubles I construct for myself. So it is a comfort to find that there is at least one other (two, if you count Ursula Le Guin as I most surely do) who shares the same faith. The faith that we are wanted children of the universe; really, how could it be otherwise?
Angelo (Pioneers), Marius Thorndyke (Eye of the Queen), Jon Wilberfoss (Wulfsyarn) and Hera Melhuish from this book, are all chips off the same mystical block. The person of deep faith and the sceptical scientist battling it out in there, just like me. How I resonate to their struggles and their doubts. And out there is Paradise gradually becoming sentient and absorbing the violence and cruelty of its human inhabitants and their love and hope. (By the way I loved the story of Sasha getting her man. Deeply touching and hilarious at the same time.) And Paradise slowly turns on it’s human inhabitants almost in spite of itself. Is the Earth (and the Universe?) going to shrug too? I think maybe it will. Or is.
The Reapers are spread over the Paradise’s mountains like spiral arm galaxies with the Reaper itself like the black hole at the centre. Maybe Paradise is a symbol for our relationship to the whole universe as well with its great stream of pre-ethical love and healing pouring in. Ah, I hope it is so. I used to work with men like the demolition boss, Mack, so he is familiar to me. I once worked with a gravedigger who left home at twelve with his swag to help build the Otira tunnel. He used to quote Henry Vaughan to me as he dug.
“I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,”
was a particular favourite as I remember. I had never heard of Henry Vaughan at the time which puzzled him because I was a “college boy.” He said he lived entirely on whiskey and condensed milk sandwiches. A hard but gentle man who said he’d never had a job that wasn’t on the wrong end of a bloody shovel. There is often a deep certainty in men like Mack which I admire, but it gets them in trouble too. Mack and Hera dividing the Dendron. Oh my! What a story.
So anyway, I liked the book very much. I liked and believed in the characters. The
narrative thread was strong and convincing. I read the quote below in the Oct-Nov 2012 edition of The Catholic Worker. It comes from a man writing an obituary for another much loved and very private man. How do you write an obituary for someone without invading their privacy? He was by Frank’s side when he was dying and had an epiphany:
“On that night, Frank led me out of the cave of illusion, took me by the hand, and guided me into the sunshine where I could see the shadow cast by the face of God. Aristotle claimed that a friend is another self. Frank is much more than a friend …. His love became the gateway through which transcendence became immanent for me …. The story isn’t about [ourselves]. This story is really about that One whose name cannot be uttered ,whose mystery cannot be comprehended, only felt.”
So it is with books, with this book.