Mercy and Imprisonment

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

shape of mercy Gloria has a few books by Susan Meissner. She told me one of them included references to Lady Jane Grey. I’ve been fascinated with Jane since my pre-teens and in recent years I’ve read a few books (both fiction and non-fiction) about her.

A few days ago I needed a new book to read in my work lunch break and decided on the Susan Meissner book. I read three or four chapters before I started to realise something was slightly amiss. I’d picked up the wrong book, and instead of reading about Lady Jane, I was heading into the Salem witch trials.
But it was a good mistake to make. It brought me to a very enjoyable book that I might not have otherwise read.

Lauren Durough is a college student from a very well-to-do family who wants to make her own way in the world. She finds work transcribing a centuries old diary written by Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials, for an elderly descendant of the Hayworth family. Her relationship with the diary and its owner challenge Lauren to face up to the way her preconceptions colour her judgement of others.

While the book was bought from a Christian book shop, it isn’t an overtly “Christian” book. God is accepted by some characters, and there are references to church going, but there is no preachiness and no blatant religious message.

The Fearless Passage of Steven Kim, by Carl Herzig with Steven Kim
Steven KimThe Fearless Passage of Steven Kim was another Christian book shop purchase bought on a recent trip to Canberra. It was one of three books I found about people practising their faith in places where there’s little room for complacency, where following Jesus can lead to persecution, imprisonment or even death.

I often feel the need to have my own complacency shaken. It’s far too easy to take our faith for granted when it’s never seriously challenged. How strong would I be if my life was on the line because I believe in Jesus?

Born in South Korea, Steven Kim moved to the United States with very few resources, but with dedication and hard work he achieved his goal of making large amounts of money, building million dollar businesses from nothing. Basing himself more and more in China, away from his wife and children in the US, Kim recognised that his pursuit of wealth didn’t bring the fulfilment he’d expected, so he looked again to the Christian faith he’d (nominally) followed in his younger days and joined an underground church in the industrial area where his business was based. When the church began to be frequented by “illegals” from Northern Korea, Kim started to work on helping them and other North Korean refugees to move out of China, towards a future in South Korea.

Unfortunately for Kim, helping “illegal immigrants” in this way, led to his arrest and imprisonment. Sentenced to prisons and work camps, Kim pushed the boundaries of Chinese hostility to religious practices to run bible studies and worship services within each prison he was sent to. He successfully shares the gospel with many leading some to faith in Jesus.

All of this seems like inspirational stuff – exactly the kind of thing I was hoping the book would be. But, there was something that made me uneasy at times; a discomfort that I tried to suppress. Who was I to question the experience of someone standing firm under such conditions. Who was I, in the comfort and “freedom” of the West, to find fault in what Kim experienced and what he did?
And then I came to a part in the book that perhaps brought clarity to my unease:

“…[Steven] recalled Moon, his Buddhist cell mate… Steven had tried to convert him to Christianity…and for a while Moon had joined him in prayer. But when Steven had pressed him to give up his Buddhist beliefs and practices, Moon had resisted; in the end, Steven’s pressure had pushed Moon away. Maybe I was too hard on him, Steven thought. Maybe sometimes people have to find their faith in different ways.
“He thought of Jesus’ words of comfort from John 14:1-2: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,’ He had told His disciples. ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms.’
“Humbled, Steven wondered for the first time if their might not be rooms in the kingdom of God for souls like Moon and Oki [another Buddhist cell-mate] too. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (verse 6), Jesus had continued, but Steven wondered whether there were many paths leading to Christ.”

I feel there is a disturbing ambiguity expressed there, suggesting that other “faiths” (like Buddhism) provide alternative ways to Christ and God.

10 thoughts on “Mercy and Imprisonment

  1. Buddhism is mostly more like philosophy, it seems to me. Except things got added to the teachings at some point, things like the birth of the founder from an elephant?

    In any case, yeah, that is disturbing to read a whole book that seems to be about a person standing strong in faith in Jesus and then veers off into this use of a Bible passage.

    I heard recently of what I think is a new book out on the Salem witch trials and is nonfiction. I’ll see if I can find it’s title. [Home educators like approaching topics at different angles.]

  2. September of 2013, by Marilynne K. Roach, SIX WOMEN OF SALEM: The Untold Story of the Women and Their Accusers…

  3. I’m liking THE SHAPE OF MERCY. Glad you mentioned it. Interesting in writing style and is about more than what one would first think, as to preconceived notions. Another book I like, along this general line, is THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND (given to me when I was a pre-teen by my mom’s brother’s wife, who became a librarian in her later middle years). Am up to chapter 10, would recommend this book (this one for older than a pre-teen probably).

    1. I like stories that bring historical events into the present to affect people in the present day.
      I read abook last year Mr Chen’s Emporium that did a similar thing – where a woman started researching a 19th Century occupant of the house that recently became her home.

      I think the Susan Meissner book I intended to read has that same kind of link between the past and present.

  4. I am likely to read more of her books. Seems she’s very thoughtful and thought-provoking. I keep thinking I’m going to skip fiction, but you find some good fiction writing.

    1. I’m wondering whether to start straight away on the book I’d originally meant to read (the one about Jane Grey). At the moment I’m in a bit of a reading fog – the book I’ve already started (More Than Conquerors, Simon Guillebaud) isn’t really interesting me, it’s too much of a “motivational” text with lots of “inspiring” quotes from an assortment of historical figues with an occasional bible quote thrown in to keep it “christian” in focus. It’s not exactly what I expected and not the kind of thing that motivates me.

  5. I didn’t, it turns out, like LADY IN WAITING as much as THE SHAPE OF MERCY. I have gone and picked out a second book by that Martin Fletcher I mentioned in a different thread. Am liking it (called THE LIST) better than the other one by him I read.

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