I have recently returned to school full time, yes, as I am turning FIFTY years old, I am back in school as a full time student, furthering my education. My goal is to become a Licensed Psychologist. Although that is/was my original goal, I am now minoring in Religious Studies as well. I am toying with the idea of attending seminary when I complete my Masters. Time will tell.
In the course of reviewing the syllabus for my World Religions studies, I found that I needed to do a book review and was presented with a list of titles to choose from.
Lo and behold! One of my best friends of 35, yes THIRTY-FIVE years had just given me the book, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young as a Christmas gift, I was nearly done reading it, and it was one of the books on the assignment sheet! Coincidence? I think not. I truly believe that this was truly a sign that I was right where The Universe wanted me to be. This validated my decision to return to school and start my journey.
What follows is my review of this book, which I recommend to anyone who is trying to become a bit more spiritual in our modern and hectic world.
The Shack, by William Paul Young, is a fictional novel that tells the story of Mackenzie Allen Philip’s journey through tragedy into healing via a spiritual experience, a direct encounter with God, through the recounting of his good friend, Willie.
Mackenzie has had a difficult life. He grew up with a strict religious background, but he had an abusive father, prone to drinking and beating his mother and Mackenzie himself. Mackenzie strikes out on his own at an extremely early age, thirteen, and eventually finds love and establishes a family of his own, with his wife Nan, and they produce five children.
Mackenzie’s life, up until our story takes place, has been one in which he practiced his religion, but did not fully embrace either his spirituality or his religion, however, his wife, Nan, shares a personal relationship with God that Mackenzie has difficulty comprehending.
While on a last minute summer vacation with the three youngest of his five children, Mackenzie’s youngest daughter, Missy, is abducted. While reactions to the abduction are immediate, Mackenzie fails to save his daughter from the serial killer who has taken her.
A crime scene is found at a secluded shack in the wilderness that leads authorities and Mackenzie to believe that his precious youngest daughter has been murdered.
Mackenzie, having lost his daughter to such a violent crime, and having an inability to grieve properly as Missy’s body is never recovered, goes on with life as best as he can, although he now carries with him what he refers to as “The Great Sadness”, (Young, 11). His daughter Kate also does not seem to be moving through the grieving process over the loss of her sister, and in the four years that have passed since the tragedy, she has become increasingly withdrawn and silent.
Nan, Missy’s mother, who has always had a close personal relationship with God, seems to have adjusted and moved through the grieving process, and is able to continue living life in a healthy and normal manner. Mackenzie finds this difficult to comprehend, even wondering at Nan’s referral to God with the familial term of “Papa”.
One winter afternoon, Mackenzie makes his way down to the mailbox during a severe ice storm to find a typewritten note with no postmark that reads:
It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. -Papa” (Young, 16)
Mackenzie experiences a roller coaster of intense emotions at the receipt of the note. On his way back to the house, he falls on the ice on his driveway and experiences head trauma. He makes it back into the house and decides that he will go to the shack to see if God will actually be there. He feels a sense of anger and wants to ask many questions of the God that allowed his daughter to be murdered.
When Mack arrives at the remote shack, it appears empty and abandoned. Mackenzie sees that the blood stains, although now years old, are still visible on the wooden floor in front of the fireplace, he is enraged at the sight and smashes a chair and internally rants about the pain and frustration that he feels. He falls asleep in the shack and the cold awakens him sometime later. When he awakens, he decides to leave and as he is walking back to his vehicle, he is hit by a blast of warm air that forces him to turn around.
When Mack turns around, he sees that the shack has been transformed from a battered and abandoned building into a warm, pleasant and welcoming cabin. No longer are his surroundings cold and blanketed by winter, but the forest and lake around him are at the height of summer, foliage and animals and life are all around him.
Mack approaches the shack and finds that it is occupied by an African American woman, large in size, who claims to be Papa. There are two more residents of the shack, Jesus, who is portrayed as an Arabic man, very easy going, and Sarayu, an Asian woman of astounding beauty.
We come to find that these three characters represent the Christian God in the manifestation of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit or Ghost.
During his weekend with God, Mack is taken on a journey of spirituality. He is taught that religion and faith are two different entities entirely. God the Father, (Papa), teaches him that the independence of humankind has led to evil, that God does not create evil, but he tries to manifest good out of the results that evil produces. Papa also teaches him that he is a loving God; he loves all of his children, and wishes to redeem all. Papa expresses that he does not mandate that humankind follow rules or commandments, he only wishes to live in love, at one, with his children.
God the Holy Spirit, (Sarayu), teaches Mack that cleansing and inspiration lead one to a more perfect communion with God, to let go of judgment, and the lessons of true love and sacrifice.
God the Son, Jesus, teaches Mack that through sacrifice and service, true love can be expressed and through forgiveness, even of the most heinous acts, true peace can be found.
Through the authors’ representations of the Holy Trinity as diverse and varied cultural representations, we find the novel to be embracing and accepting of all.
In the text, we find that other religious icons are expressed as one in the same. Although one may follow a different path, Papa, Jesus and Sarayu teach Mack that all paths lead to God.
Mack is then given a choice, to stay and reside with God, or to return to his mortal life on earth. Mack chooses to return. God instructs him to share his experience with his family and those close to him upon his return.
On his way home, Mack is in a car accident that results in life threatening injuries and days of unconsciousness, but he does recover and shares his story with Nan, as God instructed him to do.
Although Mack believed that he spent an entire weekend at the shack, his accident occurred on the Friday night that he first arrived at the shack. The reader is left wondering if Mack really visited with God in a physical sense, or if it was a result of his earlier head trauma and his later injuries in the car accident.
Mack experiences healing, forgiveness and acceptance and is relieved of “The Great Sadness”, (Young, 11), that he carried with him until he met with God, in turn; he helps his daughter Kate to heal. He feels a renewed and personal connection to God that he carries forward in his life.
This work had a solid personal impact on me in helping me to understand the Christian philosophies that are common to most Christian Sects.
I appreciated the author’s portrayal of God, first as female, then as male, in the form of Jesus as the laid-back son, and in the form of Sarayu, as inspiration. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity can gain a deeper understanding of the mystery in the author’s depiction of them as separate entities, yet one.
I particularly liked the differentiation between religion and spirituality. The author stressed repeatedly that God does not want us to follow a preordained set of rules, but only to live in love, to love God and love each other, not pushing any religious doctrine on us at all. As the author states, I agree that religious doctrines are all man-made, rules and conditions that religious leaders put in place over the centuries, not a true path to being one with God as originally intended.
The healing process was well expressed by Mr. Young. Mack was unable to come to the acceptance stage of the grieving process; his “Great Sadness”, (Young, 11), was made up of denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Once his visit with God occurred, and he learned the lessons of forgiveness, he was able to move into the final stage of grieving, acceptance.
When Mack visits Sarayu in another form to experience “judgment”, Mack is told he must choose two of his own children to enter Heaven and that he must decide which three of his children will spend eternity in Hell. Ultimately, Mack breaks down and begs Sarayu to take him in place of his children, as he cannot choose; he loves all of his children and cannot condemn any of them. At once this helps us to understand how the Christian God loves us all, and exemplifies the unconditional love that parenting can evoke.
I recommend this book for anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, who wants to understand the difference between religion and spirituality, the value of forgiveness and the acceptance of self.
I highly recommend this work for anyone who has suffered a great loss and is questioning the reasons why God would allow negative things to happen.
Copyright © 2012 Brigid Bishop
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