Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bujold, and Zen Christianity

Having been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books for some time now (read: Since I found "The Vor Game" on clearance in a used bookstore in the late '90s or so), I was a bit nervous about her fantasy books. It's been my experience that generally a good SF author doesn't do fantasy well, and vice-versa, but then Bujold's strength has always been her characters, and a good novel of any genre (or no genre at all) needs those. But who wants to read Miles-in-some-vaguely-medieval-land? But maybe she can write more than just Miles...

Anyway, last night, wanting something to read with my dinner (at Pho Duy... if you're ever in Fort Collins, CO, check it out, it's cheap and fantastic), I dropped into the library and checked out The Curse of Chalion, and as usual, I was being an ass. Although Miles still has first claim on my reading attention, I think the land of Chalion will be chomping very strongly at the bit behind him, to mix a metaphor or twelve.

I was struck mightily by the protagonist's discovery that his sainthood (one of the nice aspects of a fantasy world is you can define a saint to your liking-- and incidentally, remove all doubt as to whom the word applies) is dependent not on action, but emptiness, of telling the gods, "Here I am, use me as you will." Cazaril says, when trying to explain sainthood to an ex-saint,

It has to do with the shape of your soul, not its worthiness. You have to make a cup of yourself, to receive that pouring out. You are a sword. You were always a sword. Like your mother and your daughter, too-- steel spines run in the women of your family. I realize now why I never saw saints, before. The world does not crash upon their wills like waves upon a rock, or part around them like the wake of a ship. Instead they are supple, and swim through the world as silently as fishes.

This is a very Daoist idea right there. And if Bujold weren't clear that gods were involved, I might let it go at that, but it strikes me that this very thing is also a very historically Christian idea as well-- Empty Bell gives several examples. One Monk of St. Benedict tells us, "Prayer unveils its own emptiness before God." If I were less lazy (see below), I'd find more quotes, but you get the idea.

More thoughts ought to come later.

(p.s., I said "Zen Christanity" rather than "Daoist Christianity" mostly because I'm lazy, and I thought it sounded better.)

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