From C.S. Lewis to Graham Greene and beyond, many writers professing the Christian faith have written works of universal appeal. Though these individuals practiced particular, orthodox faiths, their works examined certain themes and questions, struggles and characters, that were of a broader appeal. For me, the question remains: how does a writer who practices a very particular faith reach all people without appearing to have an agenda? How does the religious writer craft something compelling without appearing to proselytize?
One approach: by focusing on the universal experience we share in death.
When I was in the process of publishing my novel, I made the very conscious decision to write a work that would find resonance with a diverse audience. I am aware that we live in a religiously and spiritually pluralistic society. I accept this, and understand my limits in understanding.
Further, I recognize that, as a Christian writer, I am writing a blog post that focuses on mainstream Christianity, which does not account for the many other mainstream religions, as well as the more individual ones. To continue, I wanted to write something that was inspired by my spiritual convictions and yet would also “reach” this pluralistic audience. Put differently, I didn’t want to write a “Christian book”. Rather, I wanted to write a book that happened to be written by a Christian.
My novel, “The Year of Oceans”, examines grief up close, following the life of a man as he navigates the loss of his wife. He wrestles with his feelings, pushing people away, and experiences many low, dark places. I consider grief to be a highly individualistic, yet universal series of experiences. The universality of grief was my foundation for writing. We all will contend with mortality in one form or another at some point in our lives. Therefore, my novel followed a character as he engaged with this universal phenomenon, including his questioning and struggling with the promises of hope, regeneration, and eternal life found in Christianity.
To the best of my ability, I generally try to see the best in any person I come across. This comes across in my writing. My novel includes a diverse cast of characters with different perspectives on notions of God and spirituality. There is a confident agnostic, a mindful individual, a cultural Christian who is non-practicing, and an evangelical Catholic, among others. Though many other voices are not represented, such as Islam and Hinduism, I feel that I did get a good spectrum of perspectives into the novel.
Throughout the novel, the main character, who is undecided and unsettled on these matters, interacts with these various perspectives. Again, to the best of my knowledge, I tried to maintain a neutral stance, a posture that is descriptive rather than prescriptive. The characters may be confident in their world views, but the narrator mediates, not shoving anything down the reader’s throat to believe, but rather creates space for reflection and discussion.
The novel basks in uncertainty and irresolution, which is of course a worldview in itself, but the conclusions to be found, the meaning to be made, is always left to the reader. I won’t reveal where Hugo Larson “lands”, but I will say that I sought to maintain this space. My hope is that people who read the book come together around the universal that is death, to be charitable concerning the answers to the questions.
Though I am a Christian, I consider my book to be for all people, coming from someone who is acquainted with profound grief on a personal level. My agenda, as I mentioned, was to get conversations going, to get people thinking about how to better appreciate the precious experience of this life. If people begin to think along that track, creating their own meaning, also listening to other perspectives in the process, then I consider my job done.
Sean T. Anderson is the author of The Year of Oceans, a literary fiction novel available through Sulis International Press. He lives near Seattle and enjoys meditation, being in nature, and going for walks with his wife.