“Have you read The Shack?”
We are sitting at a round, black and white paisley glass-covered table in the IKEA cafeteria enjoying hot coffee and a $1 breakfast. We weren’t there for the food, we were there for the conversation, but the sausages were exceptionally good.
“No,” I said.
Judy is good with questions. This one isn’t particularly brilliant, but even great minds need to stick to basics sometimes. I pause before answering and, in a heartbeat, filter half a dozen thoughts before speaking.
“Well, I tried.”
“How far’d you get?”
She’s quick on the draw. Articulate questioning on Facebook chat or in person, Judy already seems to be setting up to make a thoughtful point, like a lawyer who never asks a question without knowing the answer. I scramble for an answer and the explanation.
I gave her the Brief History of My Reading Habits. A ravenous reader of age-appropriate fiction as a child, my penchant for procrastination during college made reading an onerous obligation and so burned me, that after graduation, I didn’t pick up a book for years. Even then, the books I did buy just kept stacking up, begun and unfinished. Sometimes I didn’t even get past the flyleaf notes before re-purposing the Book of the Month as Dust Catcher of the Desk.
Don’t even get me started on the problem of concentration. At the end of a page, I often need to go back and re-read. So it’s come to this, the end of a meteorological slide from the stellar days of skyrocketing reading comprehension scores to repetitive reading on the front porch at Golden Pond. The only fiction title I’ve picked up in the past decade, The Two Solitudes (winner of the 1947 Governor General’s award), took me six months to finish. Notable exceptions to this problem of reader’s pain were The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit, happily and consistently read aloud to my son - from start to finish.
I go on, taking as long to answer Judy’s question as it does to read a book.
“I only read a couple of pages. It didn’t hold my attention.”
I explain that another respected friend said she couldn’t get past the bad writing. In an effort to be fair, others say either you hate it or you love it. The author would likely admit he’s a neophyte and admit his own surprise at The Shack’s overwhelming success. It was listed on this week’s email promo of Amazon’s top ten books and there’s huge stack in Costco jostling for position with The Tales of Beedle the Bard, so obviously many people like it. Even my pastor’s wife gushed that it had rocked her world and totally transformed her concept of God.
What I didn’t tell Judy is that it scares me. I don’t know if I want my concept of God transformed. He fits just fine in the navy, leather-bound, silver-leaf NIV edition Bible tucked away tidy in the second drawer of the hall table. And in the gray, tradition-bound, university-educated cranial matter tucked away tidy in the 7¾ hat sized space on the top of my over-fleshed small-boned frame.
My mind was whirring like blades on a windmill, while my thoughts duck between swipes of Judy’s intellect, I still hear the visual echo of Facebook chat where she referenced a book that had “feminine divine” in the subtitle. I teleport my thoughts to the YouTube video of Mark Driscoll’s doctrinal condemnation of theological errors propagated by The Shack’s characterization of the trinity. Goddess worship. Heresy.
“How do you define heaven?” Judy’s voice pulls me back from reverie.
I look down at my open palms, lace my fingers together and enclose them while I reply: “Heaven is total communion with God. To know as I am known.”
The most important book in defining this for me was Mourning into Dancing by Walter Wangerin Jr., a non-fiction look at grief and one of the most important books I have ever read. Even more astounding, I would read it again.
Judy goes on to discuss C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle. I jump in excitedly to share my book review. While it was an anguishing end to the Chronicles of Narnia, the final chapter’s climactic depiction of heaven brought overwhelming relief and exultant tears. I read ahead ravenously like running down hill, picking up speed and not being able to stop. Now that was good writing!
As I drove away from my appointment, I thought Judy never did score a direct hit. But maybe, just maybe, she made a point. She danced with me to the beautiful music of God whispering across IKEA white noise. We danced through a splintered shack, both of us drawn on to a light and a voice, running alongside with those calling, “higher up and farther in.” My very universe expanded like the love in my heart the day my child was born and my heart is running to explore it still.
Round and round the round table we danced, over a tray of IKEA eggs and sausage. Where I unplug my ears, open my eyes, lace my heart in my hands and lay it open and throbbing for more, I know. It is in the wanting – the desire above all to know the One who is, who was and is to come – it is in this place that God meets me.
I am in Him. And He is enough.
I have a huge love letter in the second drawer of the hall table to prove it. It doesn't scare me. I think I’ll finish that book this year.