This last week I received (and approved) the cover for my new novel, The Fire Trail, to be released by eLectio Publishing May 10. It always astonishes me when I open that email attachment. I am filled with anticipation, then wonder.
Covers cover things, in this case, the interior pages, the real book. I had signed off on the interior galley earlier, having changed a word here and there, having caught some inconsistencies. They say one never finishes writing a book; one merely abandons it. How true. I usually have a sinking feeling when I sign off on a book, for it is like sending one’s child into the great wide world. Twinges of regret will shadow my exuberance over the release, and I shall be nervous to open a copy once published. Like many authors, I am my most demanding critic and shall always see errors to be corrected and changes to be made.
And so as I gazed at the cover of The Fire Trail I asked myself if it was a good representation of the story and its themes, its characters and their arcs, the burning passion that I had seared onto the pages with my words and phrases. The cover shows the sun setting in the west beyond the Statue of Liberty, the orb of fire falling into a dark horizon, with votive candles flaming below.
I suppose it is a truth (possibly trite) universally acknowledged that humans have their own covers hiding their true selves. Does my outward manner reflect my soul or hide it? Is my book to be judged by its cover? Am I am open book, disingenuous, integrated, whole?
Our flesh, our clothing, and our behavior cover and protect us. We are born with bodies and live within them a lifetime. Body and soul are at once separate and united. And yet we have a yearning to reach out, to experience something other, transcendence beyond ourselves. Some of us make this journey with drugs. Some travel into prayer. Some are absorbed by the beauty and truth of music and art, some lost in work and some in play. In fact, being absorbed in anything, be it work, books, movies, or love of another, pulls us out of ourselves. The movement away from self is a relief, a rest, a relaxation. Self absorption is exhausting. This is why, I am told, that a good sleep is more about the rest of the mind than the body. We need a break from ourselves.
As I peer at these words through the windows of my eyes I know that I desire such escape from self. I am blessed to have found rest in God, in worship, in prayer and praise and sacrament. I’m also re-created through beauty, in music, and in nature when it is friendly not deadly. I have found rest too in books and movies that pull me into another world.
As I gaze at my new cover for The Fire Trail, I ask myself, do the images invite me inside? Just so, our outward demeanors sometimes belie rather than reflect our inward states. Sometimes they protect the inner person with layers of sophistication, sophistry, fads, political-correctness, the zeitgeist of today. Sometimes it is frightening to drop the mask, the public persona, to be open, honest, and loving.
The Fire Trail referenced in the title of my new novel is a firebreak in the Berkeley hills that many walkers and runners enjoy for the panoramic views of San Francisco, the bay and its bridges. It’s a path that safeguards civilization from the wilderness, that protects Berkeley and its university from the firestorms that rage through the dry brown grass of the East Bay hills in late summer.
The Fire Trail considers whether the sun is indeed setting over Western civilization, ushering in a new dark age. But the fire of the setting sun is also the fire of burning votives, those prayers that lighten the dark. And the fire of prayer is lit by the burning love of God.
And so today, this last Sunday in Eastertide, Rogation Sunday, we pray for our world. Rogation comes from the Latin rogare, to ask, and we petition God for peace in the world, and the freedom to pray. In prayer, we unite with God’s sacred heart of burning love.
One of the appearances of Christ after his resurrection was on the road to the town of Emmaus. The two disciples who walked with him did not recognize him as Jesus who was crucified and risen from the dead. It was only when Christ breaks bread (recalling the last supper and the Eucharistic body broken) and vanished from them that they knew who he was. They wondered at their own blindness, saying: “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”
It has been said that when we face the last judgment, we shall either burn with the love of God or be burned by it, for mankind cannot bear too much reality. He must cover himself with anything that will distance himself from real life, from truth and even beauty. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, a story about the irreconcilable distance between Heaven and Hell, describes the blades of grass in Heaven that will cut our tender feet if we are not made more real in our earthly journey, more full of the love of God.
And so we uncover our hearts and minds and souls, open them wide to God’s love – in history and in the present – so that we may infuse our culture with his law and liberty, peace and transcendence. Such experience of truth and beauty will make us more real, faith warriors able to protect our culture from the barbaric and deadly, so that that fiery setting sun will rise again, revealing a new day.