BookmarkedSarah Slean recommends book she threw across the room
Posted by Sarah Slean, musician | Wednesday February 20, 2013
Sarah Slean plays Winnipeg on February 21 (Ivan Otis)
Sarah Slean is on the road in support of her latest effort, a two CD set called Land & Sea. Slean has been a working musician since she was a teenager, and has also spent time as a poet, artist and actress.
She draws on classical and pop inspirations in her work, often crafting
complex storylines for the characters in her songs. Since she seems to
be inspired by narratives, it seemed like a good time to ask the singer
to pick a book that had an impact on her. She chose Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richard:
I confess, this book is not for everyone - it is oppressively sad. The tragedy starts in poor, rural New Brunswick with a simple lie and spirals into an unrelenting cascade of maddening injustice.
Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richard (Anchor Canada)
At times it is unbearable to read. I remember throwing the book across the room several times. But I have never been so haunted by a character as I was by the protagonist in this novel, Sydney Henderson. I found the message of his life profoundly moving and catch myself thinking about him and the decisions he made often, years after finishing the book.
After a harrowing near-death emergency in childhood, Sydney vows to never surrender to a violent impulse. He makes a pact with God (or the Great Mystery of whatever you want to call it) to completely rid his heart of anger, hate and war.
I found myself thinking about a lot of what Martin Luther King used to say about the endless power and patience of love. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." King instructed his followers to "love their enemies" - including the racists who attacked them - in order to let the transformative miracle of love do its work. He told them to see the racist as a suffering, aberrated creature bound by his own hatred - imprisoned by it. The oppressor needed to be freed as well, to be awakened to their own awesome capacity to love. Love, he said, has redemptive power.
This kind of all-encompassing forgiveness and compassion - the sheer scope of it - is almost beyond what most of us can fathom. I think this is the true meaning of "Christ Consciousness". This is what Sydney is able to muster, even as the entire town turns against them, and ultimately destroys them.
Our society's misreading of the Christ mythology is expertly reflected in Richard's depiction of the church in the novel - which fails repeatedly to awaken this kind of transformative love in its subjects. Sydney - amid a maelstrom of abuse and betrayal - becomes a living embodiment of grace and unconditional, boundless love. He is before his time and the town essentially 'crucifies' him. But the effects of his presence make waves into the next generation, and most definitely in the heart of the reader.
Sarah Slean plays the West End Cultural Centre on February 21.