Life imitates art

There’s an old cliche that says life imitates art. It’s been rather interesting for me over the past couple of years to see how that has occurred in my life in unexpected ways.

I wrote in my previous post about starting anew after leaving religious life/ religious formation in January 2020 (just before Covid hit). I talked about how I returned to my fantasy trilogy to work on a second edition.

One reason I decided to take that project of a second edition up is because it struck me how (in some ways) my life was imitating the art of my trilogy, in the sense that major themes and some challenges that characters have to deal with in a physical sense I was dealing with in a more spiritual sense.

One thing I did last year was listen to the Bible in a Year Podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz. I had read through the Bible before, so I knew what was coming with the prophets and heroes of the exile, and I couldn’t WAIT to get to them. Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel…. I knew they would speak to me, because they all felt their lives crash down around them in some way or other. They all had to start over in a new place, either Babylon (Daniel and Ezekiel) or Egypt (Jeremiah). I knew they could show me how to persevere and act trustingly and courageously as I started over too.

Jeremiah DARED to cry in honest prayer, “You have duped me, O God, and I let myself be duped!” I felt like that after religious life didn’t work out and I saw myself starting anew with my hopes and expectations dashed and no real plan to move forward.

I love how in Scripture historical events occur (generally in the Old Testament) that foreshadow or foretell things that are fulfilled spiritually in the New Testament, or things that we encounter in our spiritual and emotional life: Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis, as a prime example. Israel literally means “wrestles with God.” Every person of real faith has wrestled with God.

But back to life imitating art. My point is that as I was starting over, I didn’t just find myself connecting to the experiences of heroes of the Bible and drawing inspiration and courage from my favorite saints. I also found myself looking to some of my own characters.

No fictional characters are real, of course. But you see, I know my characters so well that they are in a certain sense like friends to me. Without any spoilers, I’ve seen them grapple with heartache, grief, their worlds turning upside down, and yes, starting over in various respects. (I remember well those moments of shocked horror when I realized for the first time some thing or other that I, as the author, was going to have to put them through.)

I realized, first, that I didn’t randomly allow evil to befall my characters. That I was doing it all with a plan, even if the characters couldn’t see it. And that helped me remember that I was, in a sense, a beloved character in God’s great story, and He wasn’t allowing me to suffer loss and dashed dreams for no reason, even if the particular explanation or purpose escaped me.

Second, I realized that in a way analogous to the relationship of Old Testament and New Testament (historical events pointing to spiritual realities, developments, and changes), some moments in my plot when characters face change or confront a new start meshed pretty well with what I was experiencing in my life. My current challenges weren’t perfectly aligned with those chapters of my characters’ lives, but I didn’t need that to relate to my characters. I could look at my characters and realize, “Yeah, ok. Yes, I want to face this obstacle or that struggle the way this character does in this analogous situation.” And in some respects, I was able to look at some of the relationships between my characters and think, “I want something like that in my relationship with God.” All of that kept me going.

People always say “write what you know.” You write about where you’ve been. What fascinates me now is to consider the ways I wrote about where I was going to go. And I had no idea.

To summarize, I am very good at making connections between things or situations. It’s just how my mind is wired. So I was able to make connections between the twists of my personal journey and the stories of the characters I’ve come to know and love, and it helped me process a real grief and heal real wounds.

QUESTION: Do you have a favorite character in a novel, movie, or tv show that you feel you really relate to? I’d love to hear about it! Comment below!

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