This House Is Filling with Light

William Russell Flint, "Song of Solomon"

William Russell Flint, “Song of Solomon”

Spiritual Sunday

In our library book discussion group this past Thursday I had my first encounter with Australian author Tim Winton. His novel That Eye, the Sky draws on the Jesus story in ways that are indirect enough so as not to seem allegorical but allusive enough to give the novel a deep spiritual resonance. Among the characters are the 13-year-old narrator Ort, who sees a luminescence in the world that adults miss, and an off-kilter evangelist who comes across as an unstable John the Baptist.

The book begins with images of a broken world. Ort’s parents were hippies when they moved to rural Australia to live amongst the trees—a Garden of Eden image—but the trees have either died or been cut down and times have become hard. The grandmother has dementia, a daughter is going through a hellish adolescence, and then, to top off their troubles, the father has an auto accident, slips into a coma, and then returns in a non-responsive state. At this juncture Henry Warburton, a homeless man, walks into the lives, helps them take care of the father, and proceeds to tell them about the Bible. Here’s Ort’s report:

He talks and talks about this bloke Adam and this bloke Eve who had no clothes on and it didn’t matter ’cause they ate fruit and talked to a snake and it was a bad thing, and everything went wrong-oh. And how you can see God but you can’t. And all these stories about God in burning bushes and piles of fire and tornados and little clouds. Stories! Piles of ’em. He tells stories like you never heard, boy. About God getting sad when no one loved him, and him just waiting around keeping things going, waiting for someone to like him, and then getting angry and crying and making a flood with his tears. Another one about a kid fighting a monster, and this one about a bloke trying to run away from God and how he got swallowed up by a big fish and chundered up again. I saw that on telly. All the time he’s talking about this bad in people and God wanting people to love him but they cant because of all this black bad in them like in an apple. And this real long story about God making a kid in a girl’s belly. This kid grows up and some like him and some don’t. He can do crazy things like walk on water and then make it into plonk, make crook people better and dead people alive. People didn’t like him because he was so good to them. They killed him by sticking him on a tree. They put him in a hole but he got up afterwards and went up into the sky with God.

Ort wants to know everything about this God:

 “Then he knows the secrets.”
“What secrets?” Mum says; she sits up straight.
“All the secrets. All our secrets.”
“Yes,” he says.
“And he saw who killed Errol [their hen].”
“And what happened too Dad. What he’s thinking. And he knows what Grammar’s always thinking.”
“All…all the mysteries. All secrets.”
Sounds right to me.
Mum sniffs. Henry Warburton laughs Out over the forest a star tumbles out of the black eye into the trees. Tomorrow I’ll go and look for it…

For a while it’s quiet, like everyone’s thinking. There’s lot of questions in me, and this feeling right down that makes me feel like I’m jumping in the air, or like when you hit a bump going real fast in a car. Butterflies, bellyrolls.

When he goes looking through the Bible on his own, Ort, who loves the world of nature, is drawn to a passage from Song of Songs:

You are beautiful, my darling, as Tizrah,
lovely as Jerusalem,
majestic as troops with banners.
Turn your eyes from me;
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
coming up from the washing.

To which Ort responds,

What a poem!…What a book. Stories! Pompous Pilot, Juders, Holly Ghosts. Doesn’t get me sleepy at all.

The poem ends on Easter Sunday. There’s an ambivalent ending that I won’t give away here other than to say (as one discussion group member put it) that John the Baptist and Salomé have a different relationship than the one she remembers. But Ort, with his special vision, detects a version of the Holy Spirit:

Birds shout in the trees. The smell of bush flowers comes in real strong. I can smell milk. I can smell the honey from the bees. The dying trees look strong and thick and all the colors come in the window like someone’s pouring them in on us. A bell ringing from the forest—it makes the china rattle in the kitchen and it puts tingles up me back and makes me hair electric. Everywhere, in through all my looking places and the places I never even thought of—under the doors, up through the boards—that beautiful cloud creeps in. This house is filling with light and crazy music and suddenly I know what’s going to happen and it’s like the whole flaming world’s suddenly making sense for a second…

And the final words:

…and I know that something, something here in this world is gonna break.


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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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