"The Sparrow" by Mary D. Russell


(Mervin Bitikofer) #21

As long as you don’t go in blind … if you’ve read what’s been written above, you’ll know to expect language and far beyond that … sexual themes that not all will feel comfortable being exposed to.


(Mark D.) #22

Thanks for the warning but I don’t mind an author ambitious enough to render characters with their animal nature intact. Always interesting to read how those get reconciled with our analytic minds.


(Phil) #23

I read Plainsong and Eventide at the suggestion of someone here, enjoyed them, even they got a little earthy at times, but not gratuitous.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #24

And I’m happy to report now, that it did not. In fact I suggest that the sequel is needed to complete the story. Especially for those of us who are suckers for closure, or even flaky “happy endings” (which I am). Not that she wraps everything up neatly or entirely unrealistically – she doesn’t for the most part.
But compared to what she has her characters go through in the first book, and even most of the second – such “closure” as she does provide is water to a parched land.

One bit of wisdom she puts in the mouth of a character was this speculation (my paraphrase since I won’t easily find it again) (in “Children of God”):

At the end of Exodus 33, God tells Moses that “you can’t see my face and live. But I will let you see my backside after I pass by.” Perhaps this is God’s way of telling us that we are ready for some truth (in season and usually ‘after the fact’), but would not be able to handle all truth in the present. I.e. we long to see God directly at work, to point to something present and say, there God is! He is doing this and we can see why and how it all fits together. But (as the characters in her story experience), we can’t really know how our present circumstances, sufferings or enjoyments will fit into any bigger plan – and we probably couldn’t handle it in the moment if we did. [this reminds me of the parable Story of the Chinese Farmer]. It does seem we are allowed at least partial glimpses in hindsight (God’s backside!?) of how some things may have worked together for good, and we can rest and hope in the faith that indeed, they did!

In her ‘Acknowledgments’ Russell credits Chatam Sofer (quoted in Sparks Beneath the Surface, by Lawrence Kushner) for the insight she gives to one of her characters and which I relayed above. I will venture that this could be a major (if not “the”) theme of Russell’s work in these two books.

They make for a good read with its main power being in the dialogue between characters. For those wanting a lot of thriller action, they might find them a bit slow moving. And of course my earlier warnings still stand – these won’t be for everybody due to language and difficult sexual themes. But, with such caveats in mind, I do recommend!


(system) #25

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(Mervin Bitikofer) #26

(Mervin Bitikofer) #27

At the request of a user who has just now finished this book himself, I am re-opening this thread. Thanks for your interest in it, @MarkD.

I suppose we could formally declare “SPOILER ALERTS” if we want to discuss plot specifics so that others still thinking of reading it won’t have anything spoiled.

…so what are your overall impressions or biggest takeaways that come to mind?


(Mark D.) #28

Now I’m wishing I’d read the Acknowledgements section at the end of the book. Alas someone else had put a hold on it so I returned it right away. Besides I was eager to continue the story in the sequel. Both are the sort of books which pull you along and make you eager to see what may be around the next bend.

There was one occurrence in the first book that seemed discordant to me. That being the point where the character Sofia pilots the entry ship back to where the rest of the crew are waiting, after having crashed the ultra light flyer. First it is hard to believe that the lander would have such a restricted range given that they did not know much about the world they would find when they left. Had the planet been much larger at all they would never have been able to descend to it. Plus, with all the time they spent training each other in each other’s specialties on their way there, you’d think everyone would have been aware of such a key piece of information. But of course I forgive the author this one weak link out of gratitude for such a fun read.

Naturally I process the religious ideas in the book the way I always do. For me, God just knows everything that is in your heart, not everything there is to know. Likewise I believe that God didn’t create everything, He just creates the possibility of our sort of existence as persons by working below the surface and ceding most decisions to our conscious choices; it is almost as though in order to become creatures that can wield reason, abstraction and symbolic representation it was necessary for the intuitive genius of our species to step aside. In essence I believe God has done that and, in so doing, has given us free will to the extent we can be said to have it. God doesn’t control external events in the world or across the cosmos, but He does sometimes push us to understand their true significance. So in the movie Avatar, while I don’t think a moment can come as at the end of that movie where all living things work together for the common good, I do think within the tribe of man we can be moved to cooperate in that direction in times of need.

Without the first book ready to hand, I will have to look to the second book to see how I think God figures into the story.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #29

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Avatar – as I generally recall, it seemed to settle on a kind of Gaia hypothesis, didn’t it? Similar to what Asimov ended on (sort of) in his Foundation series (although it’s been even longer since I read those).

Yeah, I do think that Russell’s strengths were more seen in the anthropology / sociology / linguistics interactions than in her astrophysics. Though she obviously did her research even in the latter since she attends to relativistic effects (unlike Star Wars or Star Trek which ignores it all by simply “overcoming” it). I agree that she can be forgiven any scientific gaffes in the interest of the pursuit of the real story. Lord knows we forgive some of our mainline sci-fi stuff a whole lot more yet.

At first I wondered what your blurred section above was all about. I’ve been using this forum for years and never noticed the “spoiler blur” found under the “options” gear. Thanks for demonstrating that!


(Mervin Bitikofer) #30

Here is a quote from the book to toss out for reaction; regarding the friendly, agnostic/atheist character, Anne Edwards:

Once long ago, she’d allowed herself to think seriously about what human beings would do, confronted directly with a sign of God’s presence in their lives. The Bible, that repository of Western wisdom, was instructive either as myth or as history, she’d decided. God was at Sinai and within weeks, people were dancing in front of a golden calf. God walked in Jerusalem and days later, folks nailed Him up and then went back to work. Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you ( A ) call 911, ( B ) get hot dogs, or ( C ) recognize God? A vanishingly small number of people would recognize God, Anne had decided years before, and most of them had simply missed a dose of Thorazine.

My initial flippant response might be … after you were on your third or fourth package of hotdogs and you began to wonder why the bush wasn’t showing any signs of burning up, then maybe ( C ) might start to enter your mind.

Or here was one other bit of imagery [the ‘Post Turtle’] that I love (and it may have originated from this author so far as I can see, though it has been applied as a colorful insult to American presidents) – Russell puts in the mouth of a believer (Texan Priest) after the cast of characters had been confronted with a string of coincidences:

“[Heck] of a lot of coincidences. Like we say back home, when you find a turtle settin’ on top of a fencepost, you can be pretty [d–n] sure he didn’t get there on his own.” D.W. watched Anne and George look at each other and then continued. “…the General his own self, he thinks maybe God’s been goin’ around puttin’ turtles on fenceposts. I don’t know about that but hafta admit, this’s kept me up some long nights, thinkin’.”


(Mark D.) #31

Boy I wonder how often the feeling of “God in ones life” has anything to do with supernatural occurrences. If that were the expectation, what are believers who aren’t granted a little personal miracle to think? Does their belief matter less to God?

Do most Christian think that divine disturbances to the natural world are common?


(Randy) #32

Interesting question! My dad, who was very godly, didn’t think we could rely on any definitive action of proof that God worked. He was very self critical about imagining God led him. My parents both told me if someone asked me to do something because God “led” him or her to do it, to say, “Well, that’s nice, but I haven’t had that prompting.” There’s a book by Haddon Robinson, who used to teach with Radio Bible Class, “Decision Making by the Book,” which basically says that God doesn’t lead us to do most decision making. However, he did give us brains to use as much logic as possible. We used it in Bible study in church recently. I found it refreshing.

I’m not saying that there aren’t folks who have that gift. I think it’s possible. I tend to be very skeptical. That may be my loss. There are some Pentecostal brothers and sisters who frequent here who have more insight into that than I do.

I am hoping that under very important, dangerous situations, either God would give me supernatural direction–or a reminder that He is with me despite the suffering that occurs.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #33

Well, if you’re thinking of “divine disturbances” as a rough definition for “miracle”, then the easy answer is: No. If they were common, they wouldn’t be “miracles” – they would be “ordinary phenomenon”, almost by definition.

It is an interesting question, and one that Scriptures refuse to answer. Some like Gideon (or maybe just him alone!) are granted multiple tests to shore up lingering doubts, and others (the vast multitude of us) are given no such personal audience. We can speculate, but most of us seem to be the subjects referred to when Jesus teaches that we already have what we need, and if we haven’t listened to the prophets, our hearts won’t be won over by any magic shows either. Perhaps there are some in history who because of the faltering nature of their belief, and God’s determination that they absolutely needed to carry out some instrumental role in history, that He accommodated to whatever they needed to bolster their trust. But that’s just me speculating.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #34

Here are a couple more followup thoughts to my own above along the theme of God reaching in to persuade doubters to do something.

On one hand it would seem from [every?] bible story that it is impossible to say (or keep saying) “no” to God if God wants you to do something. The testaments seem to be full of those who are armed with excuses about why they can’t/won’t and God answering that defiance with stubborn persistence (Jonah being the spectacular example.) In fact, is there any story at all where God finally relents and essentially says “Fine! I’ll get somebody else to do this then” ? I can’t think of one. Maybe God does try with numerous people and we only hear about the ones who come around and do it. That would preserve our notion of God’s tenacious commitment to freewill. Your permission is essential, the catch being that God doesn’t quit asking and has a proclivity toward deflating our lists of excuses.

I suppose the one contest of will that God seems to have lost [initially] could be the “big picture” one in which Israel refuses to fulfill its obedience to the covenant, so God ultimately has Jesus do the job instead.

It gives new meaning to the phrase, “where there’s a will, there’s a way” – and how much more so when the “will” involved is God’s?


(Jay Johnson) #35

Reminds me of an O.J. Simpson story. An avid golfer, he hit his ball in the woods and, after a few minutes of looking, announced that he had found it. One of his playing partners walked up to watch him hit it, and the ball was sitting on a tee. O.J. swore that’s how he found it.

Now you’re wandering into touchy subjects. We are dealing with the “supernatural” every day in our relationship with Christ. But I put quotes around “supernatural” because it really isn’t the right term for things like answered prayer or God’s guidance. In almost every case, God works through the people and circumstances of life, not through “supernatural” or “miraculous” interventions.

Nevertheless, there are many Christians who do believe that miracles and supernatural events should be the “normal” experience of the Christian life. Without doubt, such thinking leads many people exactly to the place that your final question implies, especially when crisis or tragedy strikes and “the rubber meets the road,” so to speak.


(Jay Johnson) #36

Isn’t that the whole history of Israel?

But, on the larger question, I think that God quite often grants signs of himself and his presence to new believers to encourage them in prayer and spiritual growth. You see this train of thought quite often in older Catholic writers on spirituality, such as John of the Cross. In “The Dark Night of the Soul,” he describes the process of God weaning us away from craving “sweetness and consolation” in spiritual things, because if we come to rely on these things, we “stumble into many imperfections” such as spiritual pride and greed. In short, we think ourselves special in receiving such grace, and we start to crave the signs of God’s power and presence rather than God himself. So, for Juan de la Cruz, the “dark night” was a time of transition, when God weans us from the craving for signs and teaches us to love him for who he is, not the gifts that he gives. I love how Thomas a Kempis put it:

JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has
many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few
to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him.
Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion.
Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they
encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him.
But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep
dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their
own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He
should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to
give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest
and self-love!

Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who
always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where
can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing?


(Mark D.) #37

The word ‘supernatural’ has always been a troubled category in my thinking. It only comes up if one thinks that God is an entity apart for whom the actual shape and substance of existence is an ongoing decision. Then prayer does seem like ‘action at a distance’ or at the very least telepathy. I hope I’m not becoming boorish in continually bringing up the possibility that God may be our creator as a psychic matter with no further creative powers extending to the world ‘out there’. God as a co-inhabitant of our consciousness which is nonetheless independent of our conscious minds but acting preconsciously to influence the way we perceive and understand the world, is at least another possibility. In a sense such a God does give us our world and make what we are possible. Much of religious experience could still be explained in this natural way including why we may never see the face of God directly. In most cases the magic told of in old stories have better explanations now. I think when we’ve correctly understood ourselves we will also understand God.

That is what I tend to think too.


(Jay Johnson) #38

No, not boorish at all. You are seeking God, just like the rest of us. The difference between us is that I am following a path blazed by others, while you are one man hacking his way through the jungle with a machete. I don’t trust my own judgment enough for that!


(Mervin Bitikofer) #39

I suggest there may be a significant difference between “explaining” and “explaining away”. I think it healthy to keep those two apart. I’m not suggesting that the latter is always inappropriate. We may rightly attempt it while trying to see through a magician’s trick. But a magician trickster and the creator God are two entirely different subjects.

Some spiritual giants would turn this on its head and suggest that when coming to know God, we will in that relationship, finally come to understand ourselves.


(Mark D.) #40

I don’t disagree but I think often there are parts which should fall away when properly explained and other parts which cannot and should not, though we might delude ourselves into thinking they can. There is nothing we can find out about how consciousness is mapped in the brain which will ever render our ‘selves’ a known quantity, ending all need for personal reflection and wonder. The same is true and for exactly the same reasons where God is concerned.

You know when I wrote that it felt likely that what I had in mind would have to compete with many other possible ways of interpreting the words I chose. But I let it go because sleep was imminent. Your point is taken. I actually think the God inside is the keeper of all the secrets of what really matters in my life. So I agree whole heartedly.

What I was trying to get at is that we might better understand ourselves by understanding the integral role played by the internal other I conceive God to be. Still unpacked in that sentence is the idea that one can no more unpack and discard God than one can ones conscious self. Physiology and neurobiology will never render either man or God archaic.