I have just finished Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice and I found it to be a quite powerful conversion to Christ beautifully written. As someone who was a fan of so many of her books and was quite pleased with her two books on Jesus I was looking forward to reading this book.
A large section of the book starts with her experiences growing up Catholic in New Orleans where the local culture was decidedly Catholic and centered around parish life. She writes about her fascination with the church as a child and her interest in architecture, statues, stained glass windows, and all that made up most Catholic churches of that period. It reminded me of what Pope Benedict said about biblia pauperum . "The bible of the poor",comprised of non-literary works, such as icons, images, hymns, windows, etc. Before she could read she was able to learn about the Church and the lives of the saints to some extent. This interest in sacred architecture and statues was also something she was interested with throughout her life, ever her 38 years as an atheist. It was also something that was a possible anchor that later helped her back into the Church, though certainly not the deciding one. I have read many conversions stories of how these images and the sacramental nature of the Church later had an effect on bringing people back to the Church. She speaks of this time with much love about growing up in this time period where pretty much every person she came in contact with was Catholic. She gives her reflections on the traditional Mass and the Latin hymns she learned to love and gives us an insight into this particular time and place of Catholics in America and her desires at one time to become a nun.
Though all is not idyllic as she enters school which she hates, though she does not hate the nuns who taught her and holds them in very high esteem. Ironically it was reading that made school the most difficult for her and it would take her quite a while to really become a reader. She really pours herself in her writing as she describes her experiences and her family and the good and the bad situations that occurred within her family. Two of her aunts were nuns and her father had gone to seminary and so the Catholic view of life permeated most of her childhood. The Catholic schools she went to were quite good, but like man schools of the time a real introduction to scripture was lacking with much memorization of the Baltimore Catechism. While this type of memorization is a great first step it must be followed up with a greater understanding of theology, scripture and Church teaching.
I must say though that I was quite surprised by what her real first name is and can easily understand why she told the nuns her name was Anne and got her sisters to call her that also. Regardless of the Catholic culture she grew up with, like so many when she left to go to college it was not long until she no longer practiced her faith and then moved onto atheism. The transition from a childhood faith to ownership of that faith is often a difficult transition and a surface understanding of the faith is usually not enough. The intellectual vastness of the faith is something that unfortunately few seem to grasp and the Church gets reduced down to laws and rules.
The thirty eight years of her atheism is not really covered in depth. She takes great care to make this book a spiritual biography and only deals with events that would make her once more think of God and the route along the way that brought her back to the Church. She does deal with her vampire novels to some extent and the worldview they came out of that was directly related to her loss of spiritual life. But this book is not about her and her triumphs as an author, but of her journey. The last section of the book deals with the events that brought her back to the Church and I must say there were often tears in my eyes as I read what she had to write. Her conversion was a real act of humility as she put aside her doubts and to truly put her trust in Christ. At one point she writes "And why should I remain apart from Him just because I couldn’t grasp all this? He could grasp it. Of course! It was love that brought me to this awareness, love that brought me into a complete trust in him …" She also discusses what she felt was her call to write of Christ which have resulted into two novels so far and the intense reading of the Gospels and other books. The famous poem of Francis Thompson the Hound of Heaven plays a part and she describes herself as Christ haunted and felt that she was being pursued by God. Her insights into much of the skeptical biblical scholarship lead her to a quite orthodox Christology that you can see in those two books.
There is much in this book to recommend it and oddly for a conversion story I found it to be a real page turner. As a conversion story it is quite moving and her efforts to follow Christ and her recognition of herself as a baby Christian shows a surprising humility. There were many things she wrote that I as an ex-atheist could readily relate to. Also interesting was an awakening to the world of faith around her that she had really not seen and how Hollywood and others manage to not see it either. That being said I had a few quibbles here and there in what she wrote. It is quite obvious that throughout the book she favors women’s ordination. She once wanted to be a priest and when told she couldn’t she figured that this would change at some point. A priest told her at some point that at one time theologians debated whether women have souls (which is pretty much mythical). Her son has same-sex attraction and it is evident that she does not understand the Church’s teaching since she seems to confuse condemnation of homosexual acts as condemnation of those who have the cross of same-sex attraction. The same goes for her understanding of sexual morality to some extent. She has an excellent understanding of Christology and hopefully she will come to a greater understanding of ecclesiology Though even when touching on these issues there was not a “me against the Church” attitude, but an evident willingness to come to a greater understanding and that following Christ was of the greatest importance.
So despite my quibbles I highly recommend this book because it is also a book on Christian discipleship, on living the faith and letting Christ lead you even into the unknown.