A Grotto of Light

This week I received the cover copy for my new novel, The Magdalene Mystery. This is an awe-inspiring moment in the process of publishing, for this is the image that my potential readers will see first. This cover will draw them in, or perhaps turn them away.

This part of the process is a simple one for me. I submit possible images to the OakTara’s design team, usually my own photos, and the designers then work their magic. With each book, I wonder, what will the cover look like?

This cover stunned me. Minute images of Mary Magdalene’s  grotto in the Provencal mountains – barely seen in my photo – were pulled out and enlarged, and with nuanced lighting, an aura of deep mystery was created. It was a remarkable transformation, and I for one, was drawn in by the effect.

How we see our world, how we know truth, is a major theme of the novel. The mystery of the grotto and the mystery of the saint herself have haunted both scholars and ordinary folks for centuries. What really happened two thousand years ago on the hill of the skull outside the great city of Jerusalem? In the burial garden was the stone miraculously rolled away? Did Mary Magdalene see the risen Christ? How can we know?

We peer into history just as we peer into this novel cover, where darkness meets light, and the light shines in the darkness. We look at the author’s name and evaluate her reliability as a chronicler of truth. Can we trust her? Can we believe her stories or the truths that lie beneath the stories?

I am currently reading a very good novel about (among other things) the nature of art, titled The Third Grace, by Deb Elkink, that I shall be reviewing soon. The author states at one point that, just as you are what you eat, you are what you read. I believe this to be profoundly true, and something not taken seriously enough today. There is a subtle working on the mind that occurs in reading anything, but even more so in reading a work that has layers of meaning, complex characters, and human relationships that exhibit truths about our world, about ourselves, about our humanity, like any work of art. We enter the author’s created universe and are largely in his or her hands to be molded into something else. We must trust the author.

Today’s world is one of little moral restraint or judgment, and this is true also of novel-writing. There are many authors who write to titillate the senses, not elevate them, to appeal to the reader’s dark places and not their better parts. Gratuitous sex and violence, often paired, are expected, and since addictive, often demanded. Slimly veiled pornography becomes the latest bestseller. So we must trust the author (and the reviewer) and perhaps not put too much trust in the media rankings.

As human beings we are constantly changing. There is no pausing for us, no halting. We either move forward or backward; we either grow or shrink. As we read lines on a page, we feed our souls and minds and hearts with a kind of food. Is it fatty? Is it tasty? Is it addictive? Does it enlighten or darken our sensibilities? Is it good for us or is it candy-coated poison refashioning our thought processes, our desires, our view of the world? Is it pure propaganda?

There is a just and proper place for showing the darkness of man, for revealing evil. But is the darkness, in the end, redeemed by the light?

Today was Good Shepherd Sunday, and I never tire of hearing the assigned Gospel, John 10:11+, where Christ says he is the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. The sheep know his voice; they belong to him. He knows them; they know him. In another passage he says he is the only way, the only door, to heaven. How do we, his sheep, know him? How do we know this door, know the path to take, know his voice? We learn to know him through Scripture, sacrament, and prayer. It is a lifelong growing process, this learning to know the shepherd of our souls.

As I gaze upon Mary Magdalene’s grotto deep in the center of my book cover, I realize that the darkness that enshrouds the cavern chapel in those Provencal mountains may be encroaching, but is not final. The grotto is lit with light, a light shining in the darkness. Just so, I pray that my own little story inside that cover will enlighten a few hearts, minds, souls, that it will feed a few sheep with the truth of the good shepherd, that it will lead us all closer along the path to his door, and he will know us just as we can indeed know him.

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