Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reverse Entropy

I seem to be completely unable to develop the spiritual gift of enjoying Jane Austen.

There are many people whom I love and respect who do have that spiritual gift, and I am willing to assume that the agony of my past couple days of reading Mansfield Park relates to my own flaws and hang-ups rather than an objective, disinterested assessment of the work. Perhaps Austen and I are two perfectly fine people who are just completely unable to make a friendship work.

But that being said, this blog is not a place for me to glorify my own hang-ups. Put down your stones, Austen-lovers! I am willing to listen to a book that I just spent the entirety of three days groaning and cussing through.

The world of Jane Austen is (in my opinion) agonizing, and throughout the course of each novel (at least the four I’ve read or seen movies of) various uncontrollable forces act upon the helpless characters who watch these torturous situations destroy all hopes for happiness and justice in their lives.

And just when it seems like nothing could get any worse, when I the reader feel very sorry for the characters but am so disgusted with their world that I want to close the book and apologetically leave them to their hell, the unspeakable tragedy happens! Every Austen novel (that I’ve read or seen the movie of) has one. Just when nothing could get any worse, and there are only 80 pages left in a 470-page novel, Mrs Rushworth runs off with Mr Crawford, Miss Bertram elopes with Mr Yates, and Mr Bertram gets a terrible sickness and seems at the point of death. (Sorry for the spoilers; I’m assuming that all my readers either have the gift or don’t, and that those with the gift had read it already and those without it appreciate the excuse not to.)

Then, in the last 20 pages of that agonizing novel, everything comes together the way it was supposed to with shocking speed and completeness. The good people marry the good people and the bad people are content to learn their lesson and live out the rest of their days sadder but wiser. Mr Bertram finally understands that what he thought were virtues in Miss Crawford were really just pretty eyes to mask a shallow soul, and he finally realizes that Miss Price has been the woman for him all along. Though the characters are too pure to say it, they are all secretly thankful to the low-life scoundrels and the unspeakable tragedy that made everything fall into the correct places.

And though Austen and I may never end up being friends, perhaps there is something for me to hear in that. Perhaps Grace is a force of reverse entropy, the power that moves the world in uncontrollable ways such that our most habitual corruptions and unspeakable tragedies, our own sins and the sins done against us, are actually putting the pieces together rather than taking them apart. We stand in the rubble of sin, socked to realize that the explosion actually produced a cathedral. Grace trumps all. It is not that our sin was good (let us not go on sinning so that Grace may increase)…

… or is it? When Death is swallowed up in Victory, is even Death redeemed? When Victory eats up Death for dinner and Death is broken up in Victory’s stomach, is the ultimate conclusion that even terrible Death becomes good, not on its own merits but because it got swallowed up by something good?

ESPN tried to say that in an article last week about my friend who died last spring, and though the lives saved with his organs was unsatisfactory for me as a justification for Jason’s death, there is a trace of the Gospel there. Grace is not damage control; it is the ultimate story of the world that consumes the damage in its uncontrollable force of redemption.

Everything falls together.


TwoSquareMeals said...

Okay, so now I have to read Jane Austen again to see if I really do love or hate her world. I thought I just found it mildly amusing. Maybe there is something I missed when I read her 10 years ago. I still say they make decent movies if you want to escape into a higher quality chick flick. Or maybe they just seem higher quality because of the period costumes and British accents?

Anyway, I will never read those verses about death being swallowed up in victory the same way again, especially since I am just recovering from a stomach virus. Yuck. Maybe we can tie in Jesus spewing things out of his mouth into that somehow :)

I leave you with Andrew Peterson:

"And in the end we'll find there's oceans and oceans of love and love again. And the tears that have fallen were caught in the palms of the giver of love and the lover of all. And we'll look back on the tears as old tales..." or something like that.

Em the luddite said...

I certainly didn't attend to temp you into reading Austen. Maybe that's where the part about Jesus spewing things from his mouth ties in...

Chestertonian Rambler said...

This kinda reminds me of a lot of thought I've had about the verse where "every tribe, tongue and nation" joins in praise to God. (And I do mean a LOT of thought--the past few months it's become a strangely resilient verse for meditation.)

For me, and I think for a lot of people, this is in some ways a justification of individuality--or at least diversity. That is, each individual culture, *in its own language* will praise God, and the total will harmonize as a more beautiful orchestra than the same group of people praising God in one language.

But if one accepts that theory, then it means that the Tower of Babel is at the same time a punishment ordained by God and (in the long run) one of mankind's greatest gifts, enabling the greater worship of God. Even diversity that is the result of sin (such as, say, the presence of millions of Africans in America due to the evils of slavery) is in the end brought in harmony in the Divine Story of redemption.

So see--if you don't like Jane Austen, it means you're some sort of Nazi who believes everyone will wear identical robes in Heaven and sing the same notes in the same language, without harmony. :-P

(Sorry. Couldn't resist. I, apparently, have the spiritual gift in spades--though even I admit Mansfield Park was sometimes a bit labored, being a spoof and all.)