"Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession" by Anne Rice (Knopf, 245 pages).
By The Rev. Greg Jones
Anne Rice has built a best-selling career through dark tales about vampires. Recently, her writing has moved toward a new light as she has reconnected with her faith.
Her most recent book, "Called Out of Darkness," provides an autobiographical account of her spiritual struggles. Rice is reticent -- she provides only limited access to her inner self, refraining from giving readers too much information in this, her "spiritual confession." Nevertheless, her clear, engaging prose offers a thoughtful account of someone who has been renewed in her mind and faith and has found a new calling as an explicitly Christian writer.
Like many Roman Catholics who came of age in the 1960s, Rice rebelled against her religion. Finding the church to be "anti-art and anti-mind," among other things, Rice quit it and stayed away for 38 years. She also denied the existence of God.
"The church, with all its rules about sex, the modern world, and books and matters of dogma, had become absolute proof to me that God didn't exist," she writes. "A God would never have made a church so unnatural and so narrow, and so seemingly fragile -- vulnerable to information, that is -- as the Catholic Church."
She came to believe that "millions were born and grew up and died without ever knowing anything of Christianity," it must follow that "Christianity was only one man-made sect making grandiose claims that could not be true." She decided to embrace a stoical life, resolving to persevere, to "journey on bravely" as a secular humanist.
Her new secular humanist faith was at least as demanding as Christian discipleship. Just as Catholics were called to give assent to a long list of official teachings, observant atheists "could never yield to the idea of a supernatural authority, no matter how often one might be tempted." But she put her back to the rationalist plow anyway -- through the death of a child, a long and loving marriage and a wildly successful publishing career built largely on vampires, the undead, and their exploits between heaven and hell.
And then, about 10 years ago, Rice's atheism began to crack apart as her Roman Catholicism had previously, She found that something was pursuing her. It turned out to be God.
While visiting a colonial church in Brazil, she admired a statue of St. Francis of Assisi embracing a crucified Jesus -- and the thoughts of her heart were opened by a breath, a whisper, an inner voice that said, "This is not some statue you bought in a shop and put among your collectibles ... This is a figure of the love of Jesus Christ that is waiting for you ... This is the Lord ... reaching out for ... you."
And so, one day, in a moment of surrender, Rice chose to "give in to something deeply believed and deeply felt. I loved God. I loved Him with my whole heart. I loved Him in the Person of Jesus Christ, and I wanted to go back to Him."
In conversion, Rice, who is now 67, explains that her return to the church did not come after a cognitive decision to accept every last bit of dogma put forward by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Rather, in responding to experiences of an incarnate God of self-giving love, Jesus, she made the heartfelt decision to revive her relationship with Him in the community built for that purpose, the Church. She returned not to an institution merely existing in the present with all its polarizations "between the right and left" after Vatican II, but "to the ancient Roman Catholic Church of the Apostolic Succession which held as solemn truth that Christ was Real and Present in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar ... the Eternal Church of the Lord."
In other words, just as she left the church on a rational basis capable of recognizing its flaws but not its mysterious graces, she returned to it on a mystical basis seeking its graces, while humbly admonishing its flaws. Rice reveals herself to be a liberal on social issues, but she pulls out all the stops in confessing her conviction that Jesus is the light of the world and that her work from now on is to serve Him as a writer.
From this book, two things come across as important to me:
* First is Rice's analysis of her own corpus of written work, now reexamined in light of her "journey through atheism and back to God." She explains that when she wrote the vampire books, she had no idea how much of her inner struggle with faith was influencing them. She had no conscious intention of writing a saga in which the characters make this spiritual journey, yet, now, she sees how this is exactly what she has done. I would think any fan of the Vampire Chronicles would very much appreciate this analysis, coming as it does from the author herself.
* Second, and perhaps more broadly appealing is her description and analysis of how she lost and regained her faith. The key point of the book, I think, is Rice's assertion that for her, God is a living and active person, who communicates Himself most deeply by full-bodied means which go far beyond written texts, scholastic argument or doctrinal propositions. She says that the New Orleans Catholic churches of her preliterate childhood, which were deeply steeped in an ancient aesthetic of incense, chant, and art, communicated divinity to her far more ably than the parochial nuns and priests did, with their lists of forbidden texts and infallible doctrines. As a child, her deep "knowledge of God, His Divine Son, and His saints was entirely iconic ... my faith in God was strong before I ever saw a page of catechism."
Similarly, as a mature adult, Rice explains that God again was able to get through to her -- not in her reading of certain books, or embracing of propositions and precepts but in her contemplation of a work of sacred art.
I strongly recommend this book to those who already like Rice's books and to those who are intrigued by the theological journeys of deeply thoughtful people.
The Rev. Greg Jones is the rector of St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Raleigh and author of "Beyond Da Vinci," a critique of "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown.