By William P. Young
If you have not yet had exposure to this little book, we highly recommend it. It is sort of a modern day spiritual parable. Fr. Nick was introduced to the book in June by a friend in Norwalk, CT. Now all three of us have read it. You can also see an interesting website/blog at this link: http://theshackbook.com/
It is hard to believe that a book without a big name publisher, or author – or a huge promotion can become a bestseller on the New York Times Paperback Fiction list. But that is the case with “The Shack” by William P. Young. At the end of the book they recommend that if you liked it you give it, or recommend it to a friend. I was given a copy, and could not put it down. I have shared mine with a friend. Several others have bought a copy through my recommendation. They also invite you to write a book review, and I am now doing that although I intended to do so without being asked.
The first fifty or so pages are difficult to read. I can imagine it being too difficult for some people, especially those who have lost a child. It could be impossible for someone who has lost a child through violence to persevere, although, if possible I would recommend that, since it is a healing book with no moralizing or judgment, it is worth the pain.
I am supposed to be a theologian, at least insofar as I have studied theology and tried preaching spirituality. I am not trained in heresy hunting, which may be a good thing as I enjoyed the novel mostly without having to decide where or if it contradicts my faith.
I am compelled to say, however that with all my reading I have seldom seen God represented as beautifully as I have in “The Shack”. I studied the Trinity, and hoped that would help my spirituality and prayer life. That didn’t happen as the philosophical side of it was too mathematical, One God, three Persons, four processions…, it puts you to sleep! I love the scriptural images of God but would say William P. Young, the author even enhances those, hard as it is to believe.
God the “Father” is a woman, a big black Momma, ironically called “Papa.” Jesus is an ordinary, Arab-looking young man, not the sickly art image you see too often (he doesn’t have a halo!) and the Holy Spirit seems to be a poetically inspired young Asian woman who can dance on her own. The conversations a grieving father has with each are the basis of the story. He is allowed to confront God, blame God, feel hatred toward another living person – and in the end to find peace, and even face fault in himself.
Since I am a religious professional, I had to face something in myself through this book. How accurately have I portrayed God in my talks and homilies? The poetry in this book is more powerfully revealing than anything I have “preached”!
However, sadly, there is something missing which I have found powerfully present in and through my own life. The Church as an institution is supposed to be the “Body of Christ”, the “Bride of Christ”. It has let countless people down through the centuries, judged harshly, alienated people from the love of God it is supposed to introduce. That was the institution Jesus condemned as well, and sadly it lives on in the Church founded at Pentecost. But I believe we all need Church, we need to go to Church, we need to be part of a community. And we leaders, especially the hierarchy, have failed to present the loving God presented in this book. We have failed God and the people by failing to represent a loving community! And so the institutional church has become less credible. William Young doesn’t seem to see the need for Church; I believe he is attempting to appeal to the broadest possible audience, church goers as well as the vast number of people who are not associated with any organized religion. In that sense he succeeds.
Furthermore, I personally need the sacraments, and the personal contact they provide for me with Jesus. If I want conversation, I have as much as I need in the Eucharist, and I know that through the sacraments of healing, Penance and Anointing I have provided it for others. It is not the nature of the story to present this side of our relationship. I just want to say to those who have encountered God through this book that this relationship is available, or can be, through the sacraments, and through a good community.
No matter how much you think you know about God, or how many experiences you think you have had with God, I think that if you read this book you will be introduced to many more – and discover that conversation with God is within reach of every one of us.
Fr Nicholas Punch O.P.
Thomas More Center