I returned to faith in Christ, and to the Roman Catholic Church on December 6, 1998. It was after a long struggle of many years during which time I went from being a committed atheist, grieving for a lost faith which I thought was gone forever, to realizing that I not only believed in Jesus Christ with my whole heart, but that I felt an overwhelming love for him, and wanted to be united with him both in private and in public through attendance at church. The process for me had been gradual and somewhat intellectual. I’d lost faith in atheism. It no longer made sense. I wanted to affirm the presence of God because I felt it. Yet I was tormented by a multitude of theological questions and social issues that I couldn’t resolve.

No matter how strongly I believed in God, I still considered myself a conscientious humanist. How, I asked myself, could I express the love for God that I felt by becoming a member of a community of believers when I didn’t know what I thought about the literal truth of Adam or Eve or original sin? How could I join with fellow believers who thought my gay son was going to hell? How could I become connected with Christians who held that there was no evidence for Darwinian evolution, or that women should not have control over their own bodies? How could I affirm my belief in a faith that was itself so characterized by argument and strife?

Well, what happened to me on that Sunday that I returned to faith was this: I received a glimpse into what I can only call the infinite mercy of God. It worked something like this. I realized that none of my theological or social questions really made any difference. I didn’t have to know the answers to these questions precisely because God did. He was the God who had made the universe in which I existed. That meant he had made the Big Bang, He had made DNA, He had made the black holes in space, and the wind and the rain and the individual snowflakes that fall from the sky. He had done all that. So surely he could do virtually anything and he could solve virtually everything. And how could I possibly know what he knew? And why should I remain apart from him because I could not grasp all that he could grasp?

What came over me then was an infinite trust, trust in His power and His love. I didn’t have to worry about the ultimate fate of my good atheistic friends, gay or straight, because he knew all about them, and he was holding them in his hands. I didn’t have to quake alone in terror at the thought of those who die untimely deaths from illness, or the countless millions destroyed in the horrors of war. He knew all about them. He had always been holding them in his hands.

He and only he knew the full story of every person who’d ever lived or would live; he and he alone knew what person was given what choice, what chance, what opportunity, what amount of time, to come to him and by what path.

That I couldn’t possible know all was as clear to me as my awareness that he did.

Now this was not totally understandable to me in words at that time. I couldn’t have explained it in this way then. But it is essentially what happened: faith became absolutely real to me; and its implications became real. I found myself in a realm in which the beauty I saw around me was intimately connected in every way with the justice, the wisdom, the mercy and the love of God.

Did this mean that I thought doctrine and principles didn’t matter? No. Did it mean I thought everything was relative? Certainly not. Did it mean I did not continue to ponder a multitude of ideas? God forbid. What it did mean was that I put myself in the hands of God entirely and that my faith would light the pages I read in the Book of Life from then on.

Now why did this happen to me? Why did this love and trust fill my heart at that particular moment in time? The honest answer is: I don’t know. Had I prayed for faith? Yes. Had I searched for it? Yes. But faith is a gift, and it was a gift I received on that day.

Over the next few years, my conviction and my awareness of God’s love deepened; and no matter what crisis or dilemma I confronted, that trust in the power of the Lord remained.
In the summer of 2002, I consecrated my work to Christ, but I really didn’t make good on my promise to work only for him until December of that year. From that time on, I have been committed to writing the life of Our Lord in fictional form. At the time that I began this work, I had no idea that my life would be transformed by this task, that the anxiety I took for granted as part of life before 2002 would almost entirely disappear. In fact, had anyone told me this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have believed such a thing. But my life has been completely changed.

Now what happened in 2002 was this: I was praying, I was talking to the Lord, I was discussing my writing with him, and what came over me was the awareness that if I believed in Him as completely as I said I did, I ought to write entirely for him. Anything I could do ought to be for him. I told him so. I set out to put this into practice. As I said, I didn’t succeed to full commitment until December of that year. But the day when I told the Lord I’d write for him, and him only, I now see as the most important single day of my entire life.

Truly not the simplest things have been the same since. I am united in mind and body as never before. In fact it seems that every aspect of my life has been brought into a coherence that I’d never expected to see. My early religious education, my long quest, my many experiences both dramatic and trivial, my losses, my developing writing skills, my research skills--all are united now in one single goal. There is a feeling in me at times that nothing, no matter how small, that I experienced has been lost. And of course I wonder if it isn’t this way with every human being; it’s just that most of us can’t see it most of the time.

There is much more I can say about my journey to conversion but I think this gives the emotional picture which is lacking above.

Now let me move on to another point. Since the book was published there has been talk in some circles about my use of “the apocrypha.” I now feel that “apocrypha” is a very poor word for the material I used. Apocrypha means too many things to too many people. And the word has been connected in the public mind with late-date gnostic “gospels” for which recent scholars have made rather spectacular and controversial claims. I would like to make clear here: the material I used in this novel, pertaining to Our Lord’s childhood and the life of His mother, has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with these late-date gnostic gospels. Nothing at all. What I used was material that is best referred to as “early legends” pertaining to the life of Christ--and these legends have indeed been used by Christian artists for two thousand years. These stories have been the source for Christians of devotion to St. Anne and St. Joachim, the parents of Mary, and the source of devotion to St. Joseph, the foster father of the Lord. Some of the earliest traditions connected with the Virgin Mary are in these stories.

In using some of these legends, I sought not to attack orthodox beliefs in any way, but to include legends that Christians for the most part have shared. In fact, it is frustrating that a book which affirms the orthodox belief in the incarnation of Christ as this book does would be mistakenly connected in anybody’s mind with Gnosticism, a heresy which does not value the human nature of Our Lord at all. For me, the legends helped to imagine a concrete world in which Our Lord lived and breathed as God and man; I did not respond to any docetism in them whatsoever. And I am convinced that people feel strongly one way or the other about these legends principally because of their great faith in Christ. I also respect this fact.

Finally, allow me to say this about the crafting of a novel about Our Lord.

As Christians, I feel those of us in the creative community must seek to be more than scribes. If Diarmaid MacCulloch is right in his immense history, "The Reformation", we had plenty of Christian scribes on the eve of that enormous and painful upheaval. But it was the printing press that enabled the great thinkers of that time, both reformer and Catholic, to transform our “assumptions about knowledge and originality of thought.” I suggest now that we must seize the revolutionary media of our age in the way that those earlier Christians and Catholics seized the printed book.We must truly use the realistic novel, the television drama, and the motion picture to tell the Christian story anew. It is our obligation to tell that story over and over and to use the best means that we have.

In that spirit this novel was written--with the hope of exploring and celebrating the mystery of the hypostatic union as well as the mystery of the incarnation--in a wholly fresh way.
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus