“It’s a total immersion
experience that we live.”
(from Brian Myers, author of The Upward Fall )
Where do I begin? Your story had a deep and profound impact in my life. In many ways it felt like it was written just for me, but of course such will be the case with a true classic.
Three things especially struck me about your work.
→ First, this is a story of redemption that could easily have slipped into cliché, as so many stories do. I was holding my breath, hoping, hoping. You so completely and convincingly immerse us in a non-Christian point of view, so deeply ground us in other shoes, other places, other worlds; I was dearly wishing that when the time for “God” came, you wouldn’t spoil it with smiley-faced Christian clichés imported from an American Christian culture. To “work,” the intervention of Christianity would have to be thoroughly in situ as well, a natural and inevitable progression.
And so it was, in so many ways, small and great. I’ll never forget your description of Marona’s final response to Cavendus’s continued trickery; she was “astounded by deeper pity she felt for the man.” This leaps from the page as such a fresh shoot of the Spirit. We see in her the fruit of divine compassion but also of divine wisdom: “You say you’ve changed. I take you at your word… Go, Cavendus—and be wise among the wise, brave among the brave.” Wow.
I’ll also never forget the final desert storm that overwhelmed Shava. It was no gentle Jesus meek and mild he met, but the severe mercy of the same One we all meet in this upward-falling life. It made me want to lose myself in Him through my many afflictions—to say with David, as Shava had done with his mentors: “Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart” (Psalm 26:2). This storm defined and consummated Shava’s life—and our lives. As Jamin says, “I don’t say it will be pleasant. More storms will blast—worse storms.” To which Shava replies, “I hope I wouldn’t cower or cringe before them. Or be a fool; if the maker of storms intends to send us more—I wish to ride them, not fight them.” He took the words right out of my heart.
The consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds”—as C. S. Lewis called this One—out-mans Rugo, Bolus, Kallion, Tundus, Roman legions, Mithra—all creation. And I wanted to be His man, to weather His ordeals.
→ Second—this is a story which itself changes us, which is one reason the length is necessary. It’s transformative because it’s a total immersion experience that we live. It reminded me of Spenser’s epic The Faerie Queene, in which Spenser’s goal is the development of Christian virtue—which happened to me as I read of Shava’s testings and ordeals. The best of the Roman military traditions became a part of me, and from there it was a simple matter for you as the writer to pass the baton to God, leaving us with a whole new perspective and picture of His ways. Somehow this story is a synergy of mythology and history, a story whose lessons take on mythic proportions that are life-changing.
→ And third: this is a powerful work celebrating general grace (you’re a true son of the Reformation)—from the heroic characters to the chapter epigraphs to the heavenly signs to much else. As such, combined with the breadth and depth of its redemptive sweep, it becomes a convincing work of apologetics. It grounds us in our faith, confirms its universality, and woos the unbelieving. Yet in some ways it’s a bait-and-switch that equally—and most importantly (somehow) redemptively—reminds us of our total depravity. Far from simplistic clichés, the truth-in-tension of this juxtaposition creates a rich pathos that brings us to our knees.
There’s so much more (I’ll soon be rereading it), but I think this story is summed up best when Jamin tells Tundus and Marona (regarding their newly written history of the Parthian War), “You have crafted a masterpiece.”
Thomas, thank you for the power— in this orphaned pastor’s life—of what you’ve written.