Around mid-day yesterday, I finished the first iteration of my newest novel, My Name is Saul. When I got to ‘Acknowledgements and Author’s notes, I short-handed my comments and merely wrote that if I began to write honestly about how it felt to insinuate myself into this man, I would never stop writing and went ahead to send to my four readers. The first step in the long process of publishing the book.
And then sat there wondering what to do with myself for the remainder of the day. I have learned not to be surprised when, upon completing a book, I am not jumping up and down in jubilation. Indeed, the feeling is often quite the contrary: What Now?
Thankfully, this time, I know exactly what comes next. And am more than delighted to be returning to my friends, Lindsey McCall, her husband Rich and a favorite character, Zach Cunningham for the next novel, Plausible Liars.
Like most of the books I have written-all of the novels– My Name is Saul was not my idea. Many writers talk about an outside source for their inspiration, even if they do not see themselves as believers, fiction writers frequently discuss the strangeness of creating characters when writing a new novel. And the fact that they emerge from the ether and they take on a life of their own. There seems to be a mystical element to the creative work of writing fiction.
Stephen Pressfield uses the term “resistance” in his excellent book, The War of Art.
Upon completing I, Claudia, I was stunned to ‘hear’ that my next book would be about St. Paul…that ginormous Apostle of the Apostles and told my husband this last year that I thought the writing was one of the most arrogant works I had ever taken on. But I consoled myself that it was not my idea, instead, it was Someone Else’s.
Last year, as I sat reeling from the implanted idea and began to write the Prologue which would be published at the end of I, Claudia, however, I got it. This is a man I get.
Get as in AHA! I know what certainty tastes like.
Saul of Tarsus was a man of certainty. The array of the intellectual and financial gifts given Saul of Tarsus were prodigious. Although very little is known and therefore published about his early life (precisely why I jumped into my vision of that early life), most scholars agree that he came from a wealthy family in Tarsus thus receiving extensive private tutoring. And Paul writes that he was a student of Gamaliel at the Jerusalem Temple.
The young Saul took to his religious scholarship as naturally as does any prodigy. Becoming known as the most zealous of the Pharisees…think about that for just a moment. The Pharisees were the main power of the seventy- member Jerusalem Religious Council- the Sanhedrin- and Saul of Tarsus top among them.
By his early twenties!
To become, in his own words, the most feared persecutor of the followers of The Way…the Christians.
Until, quite literally, he was toppled off his throne of certitude and became, drum roll here, the Apostle to the Gentiles and became Paul.
where the minister read Paul’s letter to Corinthians, the part where man was made by God and woman for man, therefore she is called, ‘woman…’bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh..’ and ‘should submit to her husband.’
At the time I was not laughing. Far from it. In fact, I had far too much to say, my language inappropriate in both word choice and volume, to express my feelings about the Biblical reading.
Only to learn how wrong I was…not a mere mistake in judgement but a colossal and grave misunderstanding. At least partially corrected, too many years later, in this chapter:
Mamertine Prison, Rome
“Aurelius, you were dismayed─even enraged─ when you learned that I have not always been celibate; but lived as a married man with children! Why would you ask for more details about a life you believed to be unfitting for a man of God?”
“Because I was wrong, Rabbi. Wholly wrong.”
Paul looked at me, almost tenderly. Those ravaged features were softened. “Why were you wrong? What makes you think that Christians I will never meet should know about my life with Hannah and our children?”
At the phrase, “our children,” his breath caught. And Paul blinked rapidly. Almost forty years and the grief is as raw, as fresh as if it all happened today.
I stared at the man who had saved my life. And that of many others. A man who would continue, through the ages, to bring those who are lost…and know they are lost, to Christ. I needed to choose my words carefully for my earlier reaction had affected him deeply, far more so than I understood at the time.
“In your letter to the Romans, you write about good zeal.” I smiled inwardly at the widening of his eyes. I had his attention. “I was filled with the opposite of good zeal when I reacted the way I did. When I learned you had once lived the life of an ‘ordinary man.’ That you had enjoyed the sensual benefits of a woman, the joy of your own children.”
I paused for a few moments to give him time to comment. He did not. But he was listening.
“This…I will call it evil zeal for lack of a better name, is dangerous. For it commands something other than the human life of man and woman for holiness. Denies the sacred partnership that they form with the Creator. It is a vicious lie, which implies that all men─ and women─ must be celibate must forego the solace of marriage and family, the creative partnership, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Must live a life that you lived for the last several decades: torture, starvation, imprisonment, shipwrecks…”
I stared at this man I had come to love. To revere, with tears in my eyes. “I was born a warrior and so yearn for the noble sacrifice of mind and body. Precisely like yours. In reparation. Beguiling, but entirely wrong. “This last letter of yours must be a message filled with His Truth, which is Love. The joy of His Creation.”
I needed to say this, too, but was uncomfortable doing so. We stood regarding one another while I considered my choice of words carefully. “Rabbi, there is another reason that I believe you must tell of your love for Hannah and the children.”
Eyes widening then narrowing, Paul asked, “And what is this other reason?”
I felt as if I were holding my breath but plunged in. “In your letter to the Corinthians, you indicate that it is better if a man remains unmarried…celibate…you wrote, ‘“I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord…. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit….I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction”…A married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided….A married woman….is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.’ “
Paul frowned, and he narrowed his gaze even further, studying me as if taking a different measure. But then he slowly nodded. As if in realization. “Yes, I did write those words.”
I knew he was startled by my recitation, but Paul had to like the fact that I had committed his words to memory. At least, I sure hoped that was the case. In no way did I intend impudence or disrespect. Paul’s gaze left mine, and he looked down at the hard scabbled dirt floor of his cell, obviously musing about what I had said.
Anxiously, I waited for what felt like a very long time because I feared his thinking I was chastising him, and I could not take a deep breath. But it was probably only a few minutes.
“Aurelius, of course, you speak correctly.” Those piercing eyes looked into mine with admiration and tribute. “This understanding has not come from you but from the Spirit. I will tell you and our readers about my ten-year-long marriage to Hannah, how it came to be.” I could see the sheen of unshed tears in his eyes
Dropping his voice to such a whisper that I had to lean forward to hear him, “It is not good for man to be alone…man and woman were created to be one…by their very nature, women are closer to God than is man. They understand what constitutes love…the impossibly contradictory ingredients of it; He fashioned them for love.”
Saul- A Man for our times, most definitely.