On the question of faith part two: The role of the Divine in The Queen of Heaven
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13: 12-13
I can distinctly recall the moment when I first realized how my main character, Lady Isabelle – who is also known as Isa – would be affected by the character trait that most strongly defines her; mysticism. It was while I was a passenger on a road trip to Santa Barbara from San Francisco along route 101, historically known as El Camino Real, or The Royal Road, a route that once connected the Missions of central and southern California. I had made the journey many times before and was familiar with the changes in scenery that would pass before my eyes; the high-tech suburban jungle of Silicon Valley giving away to the fertile agricultural lands of Steinbeck’s hometown in Salinas; long desolate stretches where at one point the landscape is dotted with pumpjacks bobbing their heads up and down like giant iron grasshoppers, the steady rotation of their counterweights extracting oil and gas from far beneath the barren surface of the earth; further south at Pismo Beach the Pacific Ocean almost kisses the highway before the route once again turns inland and the sea disappears from view until the reaching the outskirts of Santa Barbara. It is just long enough to allow driver and passenger alike to find moments of solemnity and quiet. On this particular journey it revealed a whole new way for me to think about my series and the defining attribute of my main character.
Along the drive I settled into research on a topic that had long fascinated me, the Holy Shroud of Turin. One of the books I brought featured the writings of four female mystics, each of whom had experienced visions of the Passion of Christ and the subsequent anointing of his body according to Jewish custom, including the way the cloth was placed over his body once he had been taken down from the cross: St Bridget of Sweden, Venerable Maria d’Agreda, Anne Catherine Emmerich and Teresa Neumann. Mysticism was still a new concept to me and I was curious to learn what these women had claimed to have seen. Doubts of all kinds hung heavily in my mind. Yet from reading their accounts of what they witnessed, mostly filled with the graphic details of the scourging of Jesus, his physical torture carried out by his executioners, his captors mocking and spitting on him, for the first time I felt my own sense of his personal pain and suffering. I began to understand what my character Lady Isabelle would feel as she witnessed the worsening madness of her friend and chaplain Père Charles.
In Queen of Heaven the Virgin Mary plays an influential role in the growth and development of Isa. As a mother Mary has witnessed the unthinkable; from among the crowds of onlookers, she has only a brief exchange with her son along the road to Calvary as he is made to carry his cross to his place of execution. The four mystics recall this exact moment differently, but what struck me the most in all of their accounts is the deep loss and overwhelming anguish this moment presents for his mother Mary. She is powerless to stop the horrific abuse of her beloved and only son. How agonizing that must have been for her!
At the time of the publication of Queen of Heaven the world has recently watched as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. The stories of unimaginable human suffering continue to be told, and in particular, those of the lives of women who have been left behind. And with climate change and toll of global warming looming over their country, there is an urgent and great need to do something to step in and prevent an even worse humanitarian crisis from unfolding. When I think of the themes that are raised in the second book, I am reminded of the adversity that so much of humanity still bears. And I am reminded of what the mystics saw in their visions of the Way of the Cross. When everything else is stripped away, only their faith remains.
In Queen of Heaven it is Mary’s voice that Isa will hear as the voice of God. It is Mary’s experiences of losing her son in the most heinous and cruel form of death that will affect Isa in her visions. Lady Isabelle, too, is witness to the presence of Christ both physically and as a prophecy in her life. And above all, Isa carries the Marian spirit in her heart as she must make decisions that affect those whom she has been given charge to care for.
I have attempted to give readers a glimpse of the Divine in my second book. In book one, The Templar’s Garden, Lady Isabelle’s character was heralded as authentic. It is my hope that the reader will find her credibility has deepened in Queen of Heaven, and that the visions she describes are ones that will prove relatable for a fifteenth-century mystic and those living in the world today.
Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro