People have asked me what the novel Silent Wail is about (probably hoping that I could tell them so they can walk away satisfied that they now know what it is about without having read it themselves). And each time that I tried to answer, I failed horribly.
True, I don’t yet know the full extent of what I have written. I only wanted to be honest. “I write to discover what I know,” says Flannery O’Connor, and it is true for me in this case.
I could say that Silent Wail is about marital fidelity, or family values, or vulnerability, or any of those kinds of things. However, even though the novel speaks about these things, they are hardly what the crux of the story is about.
Silent Wail is an attempt to say something about the human soul and its quest for love and intimacy (which often plunges us into fierce temptations) that cannot be captured in simple expository writing. The meaning of a story is in the whole story; it takes every word in it to say what it means.
Perhaps you should never write a story if what you want to write about can be said adequately in a sentence or two. Flannery O’Connor—my newly found inspiration—says it better: “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way.” There are some truths about human nature that have no simple way of saying them.
For all the reasons that I could have written this book, I did not write it for money or fame. Nobody makes money from writing a novel unless you are J. K Rowling. As for fame, I think the reverse is true.
When I say that I write to undo my reputation, it is perhaps more true in my writing of Silent Wail than in any controversial opinion I have dared to make public. And I am long reconciled to the fact that once you have dared to put out a piece of writing, the meaning that could be attached to it is totally out of your control.
Strangely, it is for that reason—that there is no single meaning to what I wrote—that I wrote it. Stories have the exceptional blessing of multiple (and multilayered) meanings.
Rather, I felt compelled to write (in spite of the fact that romantic fiction does not enjoy the fortune of respectability among Christians) because the issue I am addressing is of the severest concern to me and very urgent.
Flannery O’Connor commented in a letter to a friend about her first novel, The River—and I absolutely concur—that: “I don’t think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else,” (cited by James K. A. Smith in How Not to be Secular, 2014).
I am greatly concerned about the apparent disregard for marriage and family that is now in vogue even among Christians, and I believe that this should be of the gravest concern to us all.
We have proven beyond a doubt that Christians are as sensual as everybody else, and the only ways we have found to deal with our infidelities is to cover it up or treat it as a non-issue.
Personal salvation (and its attending assurances) has become a license, so to speak, to disregard communal responsibility; the pursuit of righteousness for the sake of the love of neighbor—whether that neighbor is my spouse, child, in-law, church or community member, or even a stranger.
Moral law, as we may well know, is not for the benefit of God; it is for our benefit as humans, and perhaps more importantly, for the good of those who mean the most to us.
Another thing that bothers me is, whereas there are some among us who totally disregard sexual purity (or staying married to one partner for as long as you both live), there are those who wish to deny that misplaced desires do occur among serious believers or that it is important enough to be talked about authentically.
We think that human sensuality and spiritual sensibilities are opposites and so we have become dualists who disconnect matter from spirit, casting away the former as if we can truly be free of it.
I am of the scandalous conviction that spiritual and romantic sensibilities belong in the same realm. Our soul is not as segregated as modern science has made us believe it is, nor can we truly step away from ourselves in order to “objectively” practice spirituality.
Why would the Bible say of God that he is husband to Israel and the church as the bride of Christ? Why in God’s world is the book Song of Solomon in the Bible, traditionally read by Jews in celebration of the love of YHWH at Passover?
Paul refers to the union of a husband and wife, an analogy for Christ and the church, as “profound mystery” (Eph 5:32). I think that Christian maturity is in the ability to reconcile our spiritual sensibilities and our natural passions.
The great Christian thinker, C. S. Lewis, explains this mystery of the human passions in his book “The Four Loves,” (originally a radio talk that drew some criticisms for its openness about sex). But you see, we are humans, susceptible to these passions.
Whatever happens between a man and a woman to make them fall in love (Eros) remains a mystery (Proverbs 30:18) and it is not always a case of lust (Venus). Also, there is nothing that says once people are married they cannot find themselves drawn to other people who are not their spouses (which we now refer to as temptation).
What I do not understand is why we don’t talk honestly about it while emphasizing that such attractions should not be indulged for the sake of other loves (ref C. S. Lewis). Other loves should restrain us.
Silent wail is an attempt to address, as authentically yet as sensitively as possible, our humanity; not so we can escape it, but so we can live with it victoriously.
I tried to show that Christians are just as human as everybody else and that our ability to live righteous lives does not consist in our not being tempted in the same manner that other humans are but in our ability to overcome all sorts of temptations. Temptation itself is a tool God uses to mature us rather than something we can avoid if we are mature.
I believe that marital infidelity is a grievous sin, but we have blurred the line between the temptation and the sin itself so that those who are struggling with the temptation already feel condemned and cannot, in all honesty, talk about it. We have encouraged isolation and secrecy which further exacerbates the problem.
I tried to explore in Silent Wail why married people may end up in the place of marital infidelity. No Christian (I hope) marries their spouse with the thought of cheating on her/him in the future, nor do people usually think ahead to divorce their spouse and marry another before the marriage ever takes place. It is often a slow, unconscious process. So, can we find that delicate balance where we can help one another live beyond reproach yet without hypocrisy?
Silent Wail is meant as a conversation starter for couples who have things to talk about but do not know how to begin. It is for groups of friends who want to start an accountability group to help one another stay faithful to their spouses.
I hope very much that older Christian couples will be inspired to mentor younger couples. We must do more as the Church to escape the bombardment of immorality we “breathe in with the air of our time.”
Most importantly, Silent Wail is for those “silent wailers” out there. I hope that this book will provide you the comfort of knowing you are not alone and that you can break the silence and find healing for your soul. That you will know there is a way of escape that God has prepared for you for the taking.
May the story also provide for some of us the needed space to privately come off our spiritual high horses and examine our failings so that we may deal with them honestly.