Anne Rice’s Jesus Is Our Jesus
Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
A novel by Anne Rice
336 pages, $25.95
Available in bookstores
Like many Catholics, I was skeptical when word first filtered out last year that novelist Anne Rice, of macabre vampire-story fame, had been restored to full communion with the Catholic Church. Although certain that no one is beyond the reach of grace, I needed to read and hear more before reacting to the conversion reports with genuine joy.
I didn’t have to wait long. Rice’s new book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, is the work of a believer, albeit one not yet fully in communion with the magisterium. Throughout these pages, and especially in the long author’s note that follows the story, Rice demonstrates her deep devotion to Jesus Christ. Hers is not a New-Age Jesus; nor is he some peripatetic first-century rabble-rouser. No, here is the Lord of the Creed: true man and true God, like us in all things save sin. As soon as that recognition grips, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt becomes a prayer aid — an intensely moving, carefully considered reflection on the earthly childhood of the Lord.
The book opens in Egypt, where an angelic word has just arrived that Herod the Great, the murderous Judean king, has died. The 7-year-old Jesus is living with his extended family on the Street of the Carpenters in Alexandria. The narrative, written in Jesus’ first-person voice, traces the family’s trek from Egypt to Jerusalem, Jerusalem to Nazareth and then back again to Jerusalem the following year.
Along the way, in creative narrative and resonant dialogue, Rice paints carefully observed portraits of the Holy Family as seen through Jesus’ eyes. Mary is preternaturally innocent and meditative, but also imbued with a very human range of emotions. Joseph is a quiet and wise defender of his family.
The most astonishing and moving figure, of course, is Jesus himself.
Franciscan Father Benedict Groeschel is famous for his consternation at the question “When did Jesus realize he was God?” I think even Father Groeschel would appreciate the deftness and reverence with which Rice treats the unfolding divine consciousness of the boy Jesus. It is this unfolding that gives the book its power as a meditation on the Incarnation and saves it from becoming just a pious, imaginary travelogue.
From the outset, Jesus knows he is unlike other children. He can make clay pigeons come to life and cause the rain to stop. And yet he doesn’t quite know why he has such powers. He senses that his family has been in Egypt because of something to do with him, something that happened at his birth, but they all conspire to keep the secret from him.
When finally Mary and Joseph determine that he can be told, a series of beautiful vignettes unfolds. It’s in these that Rice shows Jesus gradually awakening not just to his human singularity, but also to his divinity. This process is consummated near the end of the tale, when Jesus sneaks away into the Temple and convinces an old rabbi to tell him about Bethlehem.
A word of caution: Anne Rice has lately had many things to say in the press about the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, women’s ordination and other issues the mainstream media loves to tease out with famous Catholics. Some of her comments have been disturbing. Yet they seem to point out a lack of mature formation rather than a spirit of determined dissent. Anne Rice admits that she is still converting, as we all are. We should pray that she will finally come to a full acceptance of the teachings of the Church.
In the meantime, don’t deprive yourself of the contemplative delights to be found in reading this, the first in a planned series.
As for me, I can’t wait to find out what happens next — even though I already know how the story turns out.
Mark Gordon writes from
Westerly, Rhode Island.
- February 19-25, 2006