I finished reading two books a few days ago. The first is Chance or the Dance by Thomas Howard and the second is Perfectly Human by Sarah Williams. Spoiler: These reviews contain spoilers and a surprise spiel about grief and such.
I first heard about Chance or the Dance while listening to one of Eric Metaxas’s podcasts. It has been in my Amazon wishlist for over a year, but I just recently had the gumption to buy it on Kindle for some reason. I had read about four pages deep on my Kindle and realized that it was going to be a highlighting book, so I bought a hard copy. I don’t highlight very often, but when I do, I tend to do it profusely.
The subtitle says it’s “a critique of modern secularism,” and that’s accurate, but it’s so much more: it’s also a worldview-shifting book that reads like classic C.S. Lewis and will leave you reconsidering everything you think you know and while adding a smorgasbord of new food for thought. It’s essentially the literary version of Thanksgiving dinner after starving in the wilderness for weeks while also completely lacking any sense of portion control.
It talks at length about how the “old myth” says that everything means everything, whereas the “new myth” says that nothing means anything. Meaning in everything or no meaning in anything. Does life have meaning? Does everything mean everything or does anything mean nothing?
This book assesses and critically examines old beliefs, new beliefs, the spiritual, the existential, and so much more and builds an actual coherent and logical argument for life having meaning.
Is life all random chance or is it a grand, choreographed Dance?
After having freshly melted my brain with that book, I purchased and read Perfectly Human. Honestly, I don’t even know why I bought it other than because it appeared on my “books you might enjoy” list from Amazon after I bought the Gosnell DVD. Pregnancy memoirs aren’t normally in my genre wheelhouse, but it was inexpensive, and I’m an impulse buyer who happens to be a sucker for babies, so I bought it.
And now I can honestly say that it’s one of the best books I have read in the past year. I don’t generally get emotional while reading books, but this one elicited feels that I haven’t felt since reading A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken.
Essentially, a lady in the U.K. becomes pregnant and soon discovers that the baby has catastrophic defects that won’t be able to support life. The medical staff encourage her and her husband to terminate the pregnancy due to the health issues and the baby being 99% likely to not survive to full term, in addition to the mom having complications of her own.
With it being a Christian book, when I first started reading it I was expecting it to have a surprise ending where the doctors were wrong and the baby miraculously survived all healthy and whatnot.
Boy was I wrong. That didn’t happen at all. It was horrifically tragic and heart melting and sad and awful and terrible and, honestly, for a minute it made me consider if adoption is better than conceiving just for the sheer fact of it being sometimes safer for both the mom and the unborn baby.
But then the unexpected happened: hope.
The way the mom, husband, family, and support system all responded to this devastating ordeal was extraordinarily remarkable.
This wasn’t at all like the tacky and über unrealistic Jesus movies where everyone gets saved right before they die or never have anything excessively bad happen to them or where they never cuss, drink, or make poor life decisions with actual consequences.
Ugh. Those movies.
This family’s pregnancy and dying baby were gritty. Painful. Visceral. Real.
I say “family’s” pregnancy because even though the mom was the one who was actually pregnant, the whole family was affected by it as well, just like in real life.
The baby died in the womb. Everyone was devastated for a long time. But out of that devastation, hope emerged. Love. The family grew closer to each other and to God. And the way they loved on that baby while she was still pregnant was also surprisingly tender and heartwarming.
As distressing as this story is, and in part because of how distressing it is, I think it’s further evidence that 1) life has meaning, and 2) God exists.
In his book A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis proposes that our character is defined when we’re at our worst “because you never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”
I would like to add to that: Being at our worst is also where that character is forged, beat into more of what it already is, and honed. Grief and tragedy spur us to dig our heels in and become more of what we already are. In a way, grief and loss are faster catalysts for growth and character development than love and goodness are. It’s certainly a more painful one.
The following quote is from Perfectly Human, but I think it reads like it could’ve been from any of the books mentioned.
“The thin line between the spiritual and the material dimensions of reality blur at moments of birth, death, and of intercession. At these moments we are afforded a glimpse of just how thin this line really is. Indeed, we see perhaps that there is no line at all. We take a second look at the mundane black-and-white plateau of our existence and we see that it is, in fact, a textured blaze of color, contoured with wonder and mystery. And with this glimpse we see that here good and evil are sharply defined; faith and unbelief are locked in combat.” Perfectly Human, pages 96-97