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Jesus Creed

Anne Rice’s vampire novels have sold 100 million copies. She now
writes, as she tells us so candidly in her memoir of conversion, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession
, solely for God. Her story is an old genre: faith and then atheism and then rediscovery
of faith. But, because her faith is also profoundly personal and
because no two persons are identical, her story is a fresh story of conversion (and a good Christmas present book).

Questions for conversation: What is your favorite conversion story (and why)? What do you think of the conversion story of celebrities (like Anne Rice)? How much did the artistic, sensory, or aesthetic figure into your conversion? (I haven’t mentioned my book on conversion on this blog in a long time: Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels
.)


I
have read and pondered hundreds of conversion stories in print, my
favorites being C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
, and G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy: The Annotated Edition
. Anne Rice’s memoir
is more like Lewis’s than like Chesterton’s, whose style seems to take
over everything, in that Rice’s conversion is from front to end sensory
and aesthetic.? If Lewis’ conversion placed in his heart the joy he was
seeking and if it made sense of all the stories he had explored, Rice’s
conversion story is that of the person whose visceral sensory
experiences were not only shaped by the gospel but also found their
ultimate meaning only in the gospel.

In one remarkably compact
paragraph, which states the theme of her schoolgirl life, Anne Rice says,
“It’s important to stress here that my earliest experiences involved
beauty; my strongest memories are of beautiful things I saw, things
which evoked such profound feeling in me that I often felt pain” (6).
Add to this that she said her early faith was “entirely iconic” (15)
and that “the words didn’t matter in those early days. The sentiment,
the sense of the sacred, the sense of the splendid opportunity, were
all embodied in the tones and the music” (23). Anne Rice’s faith was
medieval in that, like the ordinary Christian of those days who could
not read, “there was a profound connection between narrative, art,
music, and faith” (29).

Paradoxically, when she moved from New
Orleans to Texas and then attended college, she observes that the
“church had become for me anti-art and anti-mind. No longer was there a
blending of the aesthetic and the religious as there had been
throughout my childhood” (124). She left the church and that meant she
left God for her God was the God of that church – the Roman Catholic
Church. She quit and became an atheist for thirty-eight years.

This book is the remarkable rediscovery of her faith.

Sensory
faith and sensory conversion stories are the province of artists who
write from the gut and by instinct. Anne Rice was such an author: her
vampire, sensual novels “where written,” she reveals, “by someone whose
auditory and visual experiences shaped the prose…. I am a terrible
reader. But my mind is filled with these auditory and visual lessons
and, powered by them, I can write about five times faster than I can
read” (144). She developed a style that could “make real for the reader
the acoustic and iconic world in which I’d been formed as a child”
(144).

Her conversion involved
the sensory and the aesthetic. After she returned to New Orleans as an
accomplished a wildly wealthy novelist and after her faith began to
reawaken in her, she “continued to buy religious statues” (170) and a
building or two that she filled with icons. Throughout her atheist
days, Rice kept a graphic icon of St. Francis and Christ, an icon of
suffering and compassion. Back in New Orleans her son and creation and
music and paintings continued to reveal to her that there was a God and
that the incarnate Jesus Christ embodied – in a sensory and profoundly
aesthetic sense – what her faith was once again becoming. After her
conversion she relearned to pray but to do so it had to become
“acoustic” – she had to hear the prayers (193).

We’ll continue this review tomorrow.

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