Monday, November 12, 2012

How Reading a Vampire Book Showed Me a Picture of the Holy Spirit - ...and Then Comes Death in the Land of the Living

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1 Peter 4:12-13 – Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.

 If you’ve never experienced a ‘fiery ordeal’ (I call it ‘death in the land of the living’), it will be difficult to comprehend this section. More than a wilderness experience, more than a simple test of faith or commitment, this purification process is like metamorphosis. A complete and forever change resulting in becoming ‘like’ the Perfect Lover.  
Bella has just delivered Renesmee, quite unconventionally, leaving her split open, broken and dying. Edward, however, has injected his venom – a.k.a. Agent Change and, might I add, a physical part of himself that is also the essence or ‘spirit’ of what makes him who he is– into Bella’s heart. He also has administered a massive dose of morphine in hopes that the fire of his venom making the change will not agonize her as much as is expected.
But, as we find out, that just makes matters worse because it paralyzes and forces her to suffer everything without an outlet, completely silent and still. Note, in the case of Agent Change, any attempt to lessen pain usually makes it worse.
Anyway, at this point in the story, we switch back to Bella’s perspective. So, even though her family only sees an unmoving and unresponsive Bella lying on a hospital bed, we get a first hand look at how she is feeling during this process transforming her from human to vampire, from mortal to immortal, to become ‘like’ her perfect lover.
Her first thoughts – “The pain was bewildering.”
Though she tries to divorce herself from it, she describes reality as feeling like, “…being sawed in half, hit by a bus, punched by a prize-fighter, trampled by bulls, and submerged in acid… all at the same time.” (BD, p369) While attempting to make sense of what she calls ‘torture,’ she can’t remember the importance of enduring it.
Oh… but right at that moment, she visualizes an image of Renesmee. The gift of life she fought for. The thought doesn’t ease her suffering, but the memory gives her hope.
Still, misery rages on. To her, it feels like blackness, a crushing weight, a fire so hot that ripping her heart out seemed preferable – anything to stop the pain. She lamented the immobilizing morphine, because “If I couldn’t scream, how could I tell them to kill me? All I wanted was to die.” (BD, p377) This continues for what to Bella seems like eternity. The only change comes when agony increases, doubled she says.
Oh… but right at that moment, she feels “some broken connection had been healed – knitted together by the scorching fingers in the flame.” (BD p378) She might not realize it just then, but her mortal injuries (i.e. broken spine) have just been mended. Painful as it is, the process is leading her toward restored, whole life.
However, all she feels is continuous, raging fire searing her insides.
Oh… but then she makes a discovery – she feels stronger. This is how she describes it:
Though the fire had not decreased one tiny degree – in fact I began to develop a new capacity for experiencing it, new sensitivity to appreciate, separately, each blistering tongue of flame that licked through my veins – I discovered that I could think around it… I could remember the reason why I’d committed to enduring this unendurable agony. I could remember that, though it felt impossible now, there was something that might be worth the torture… This happened just in time to hold on…”  (BD, p378)
The change is significant, because, she says, “…it felt like I’d gone from being tied to the stake as I burned, to gripping that stake to hold myself in the fire.” Though more difficult than anything she’d experienced, and more painful than anything she’d ever faced – even evil vampire James breaking her leg with his bare hands back in book one – Bella finds determination to complete the process, to desire any and all pain necessary to accomplish becoming ‘like’ her perfect lover.
The other significant difference is now that she has regained some of her senses, allowing her to reach a little outside herself for the first time since the process began, she hears Edward next to her. She realizes and is comforted by the fact that he is present and has been the whole time. His love has never wavered, and he’s been watching over her during each agonizing second.
I get so emotional at this point in the story because I know exactly how Bella feels. No, I’ve never had vampire venom coursing through my veins, but I have experienced fiery ordeals that left me identifying too closely with her. From the intensity to the never-ending duration, I’ve experienced that overwhelming load and darkness and searing pain that left me wishing for death, begging for anything short of ripping out my heart for relief. Not physical pain, I am so thankful to report (though some people do suffer physical maladies as part of their refining). But emotional, mental, spiritual – oh, yea, I’ve felt the flames. And just when I thought trouble was about to stop, or should stop, that I deserved for it to stop, hardship intensified, doubled in weight, felt like despair was about to crush my spirit if not my entire life.
During those fiery ordeals, the last thing I wanted to remember was 1 Peter 4. In fact, I am surprised to be feeling so forlorn and attacked. I’m not rejoicing for being singled out for trials I didn’t request or initiate. And I’m certainly not looking forward to nor am I interested at all in sharing in God’s glory. At the time, in the midst of misery, all I want is rescue from suffering. Adding insult to injury, I felt isolated, alone, forgotten, paralyzed, like no one understood what I was going through, nor did they care. I know now, of course, that’s not necessarily true, but in the heat of agony, I doubted everything and everyone. Including my Perfect Lover.
However, I experienced occasional moments of respite – anything from a kind word from the Taco Bell cashier to a surprise letter in the mail with a restaurant gift card tucked in – evidence of mercy like Bella remembering Renesmee, urging me along with glimpses of hope. Then, in the midst of the flames, I’d learn something – inspired from a sermon or a book or a movie - that healed wounds from my past, like the venom mending Bella’s spine. And after a long, long while, I learned I had a much deeper capacity for pain than I ever imagined. I realized I possessed God’s strength to weather these storms, even find bits of joy, like Bella discovered capacity to cope as well as appreciation for the fire.
Like Bella, each of these mercies happened for me ‘just in time to hold on.’ Just in time not to give up. Just in time to know God hadn’t abandoned me. He’d been watching over me every second, ensuring I survive the process.
No one boasts about suffering. The pain is indeed too bewildering to conjure up pride. And yet, the Bible tells us, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame [or in NLV – hope does not disappoint us], because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:2-5)
Please tell me you are seeing this! No matter how many times I visit this, I get goose bumps. Whew. There’s a purpose to this painful process and we can cling to His hope of eternal life because His Spirit does the work in us. According to Romans 8:18, the result promises to be worth the wait and the agony.
Okay, but when does the pain end?
Well, the end is imminent (closer than we can comprehend when we are in the midst of it), but here’s another heads up – Bella heard her family saying things like ‘It’s almost over,’ and ‘Soon,’ but instead of receding pain as she neared the process’s end, the pain intensifies to an almost unbearable degree.
Well, they don’t say “It’s darkest before the dawn” for nothing. Get it? Breaking Dawn. Yea. You get it.
See you Wednesday for more How Reading a Vampire Book Showed Me a Picture of the Holy Spirit. Only four more days until the movie opens! Do you have your midnight tickets yet?
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