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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Seeing Jesus in others: The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

The Necessary Beggar, by Susan Palwick, was published by Tor Books (2005). Tor publishes a lot of fantastic literature, including some of the best such. The book was a 2006 Alex Awards winner.

You can read reviews of The Necessary Beggar here, here, and here, and elsewhere. The first one is by Claw of the Conciliator, and I thank Eliot, its blogger, for introducing me to this book, and to Susan Palwick (who also blogs). The other two links are to sites that commonly review fantastic literature. Palwick, in other words, although writing with a Christian world-view, has made some impact on the community-at-large that is interested in fantastic literature. (Eliot begins his review with a quotation from the Bible.)

Part of the plot (by no means all, and Palwick probably didn't intend it as the main point) is what happens to Stan Buttle throughout the book. We are introduced to him as a fundamentalist preacher, full of fire and brimstone, rather too quick to consign others to eternal damnation. As the book progresses, he loses much of his fire, and, he says, his faith. Then, near the end, he regains it.

How does he regain it? From an alien, who has come to earth with his family, and committed suicide (it's a long story, and I won't tell most of it -- read the book, or the reviews may help some) and become a ghost. After a miserable existence just existing in the place where his family lives, the ghost, Darroti, decides that he needs to act. He knows that he can appear in the dreams of others, and now he decides to do it with a purpose. One of the dreamers he picks is Stan. Stan thinks he has seen a vision of Jesus, and his faith is renewed.

This is how his wife, Lisa, describes the matter to Timbor, the alien elder:
"But if Stan found out," I said, "his faith would be broken again. And we must not let that happen."
Lisa shook her head and put her hand over mine. "Timbor, you know what? If he found out, it wouldn't make any difference. It doesn't make any difference. Jesus comes to us in other people, always. That's the way it works. Stan always knew that with his head: he just couldn't wrap his heart around it. The trick is learning to see Jesus everyplace, learning to see Christ in whatever poor schlub is walking down the street. Stan can talk about that to beat the band, but he was never very good at doing it. Because he was too afraid, you know, afraid of the other people he knew it was his job to love. Afraid that he'd get hurt, or that he'd go to hell for loving somebody who'd done something wrong, even though that's the entire point, that's what we're supposed to do, because everybody does things wrong. So if Stan learned to see Jesus in a ghost, well then, that's fine. Because now he's learning to see Jesus in the checkout kids at the supermarket, too, even when they shortchange him or break the eggs or take too long loading the cart because they're gossiping with their friends." (p. 312)

Indeed! This is an amazing passage in literature sold by a secular publisher. I am reminded of Matthew 25:31-40, and I am also reminded that, although I can't redeem anyone, I need to be Jesus to other people, on-line and in the real world.

Thanks for reading.

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Added April 1, 2007. I have been honored, in that Susan Palwick has commented on another post of mine. Part of her comment relates to this post.

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Added July 31, 2007. I have now posted on Palwick's Flying in Place.

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