I think it was in her book Walking on Water that Madeline L'Engle wrote that she loved writing young adult as opposed to adult fiction because the audience was still interested in questions of meaning and purpose. I suppose that is why I have always gravitated towards young adult fiction, but then again that reason also sounds better than admitting you still feel like your twelve sometimes. Either way, I took a break recently from reading The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross to indulge in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Emmett always used to laugh at the range of my book choices, so for a while, just for the irony, I had Twilight next to Systematic Theology on our bookshelf.
My love of fiction is deeply rooted in the same reason that Jesus spoke in parables, because pictures often capture truth better than doctrine. Jesus can tell us to love our neighbors, but when he tells the story of the Good Samaratin loving the Jew when they were supposed to be mortal enemies, you understand that his command is revolutionary, calling us to a whole new life. So I read The Hunger Games (and the two that followed in the series), and although I enjoyed them, I'm not here to give a glowing endorsement. Read them if you want, or not, I don't care. But for where I am at right now, it was the perfect book to follow The Ascent of Mount Carmel. In The Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross details why we need to purge the soul of misplaced desires for worldly things so that the soul can be fully occupied by the love of God. And so I meditated on these grand ideas without really getting anywhere.
When I picked up The Hunger Games, I was struck by how much of the book is about identity and grief. In the book there is a viciously autocratic government whose capitol city makes each district send two children every year to compete to the death as a form of punishment for a previous rebellion. The two main characters are chosen, of course, and hence follows three books of trying to survive and then later on leading a revolution. Early on the boy says to the girl something to the effect of wanting to get through as himself, not to let the capitol take the only thing he has, his identity. That thought sounded way less cheesy when he said it. The idea of identity keeps coming up as all sorts of bad things happen, and towards the end of the books, the girl finally understands what he means. As she grieves the effects that war and loss have had on her life, who she is becomes a kind of mantra that she repeats to herself over and over.
I so often fail to open my eyes to the evil of this world. The power of our enemy, the devil, to make us forget who we are is staggering. Whether through over-indulgence or deprivation of material things, through falling in love or losing my love to cancer, or even through self-righteousness or self-deprication, there are a thousand temptations each moment to be someone less than I am. And that is exactly what St. John was getting at, that even the good things of this world, when considered more precious than Christ, become the chains of our slavery. Loss of any sort can reveal how deeply we are chained by our desires, and how little we know of who we truly are.
But I find that even though the grief is deep, I know who I am. I am a daughter of the king, an heir to the inheritance of Jesus Christ, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. And just like the girl in the story, I have been repeating this truth to myself over and over again because it is my identity that defines my grief, not my grief that defines my identity.