Reflections on The Shack by WM Paul Young
August 27, 2011
Tags: esóterism; elousia; fractals; sarayu; WM Paul Young, The Shack
Let me start by saying this is not the kind of book I would normally read. It talks about philosophy, religion and esoteric matters. I don’t have any religious inclinations and I never ask myself the big existential questions about life or why I’m here….I just take life as it is, one day at a time.
My dear friend Luis read The Shack and lend it to me because he liked it so much. I promised him I would read it, and decided to dedicate this post to him…I am also doing this one in English for my friends who don’t speak Spanish.
At the beginning I must confess I struggled through the pages. What is all this talk about Papa anyway??? But like a woman on a mission, I kept on reading… Finally, I got caught up in the story once Mac started asking the right questions. The twist at the end is my favorite part because it added a lot of depth and perspective to the book. Without the big twist, The Shack would have just sounded like a delusional acid trip to me. That twist made the book real to me, and for that, I respect you Mr Young.
The Shack is full of symbolism (of course it talks about a man who has an appointment with God in a shack!!). First, let’s define the word shack. I find it very interesting and accurate to describe the place where Mac will meet God as a shack which is “a small house in disrepair, an adobe house roughly built but of solid structure.” In military aviation terms it is “a successful direct hit on a ground target”. Finally, it can also mean “bus stop to commuters that offers shade and protection from weather on your way somewhere”. All of these definitions are accurate for the shack presented by Paul Young. Mac is a man whose house or soul is in disrepair, although solidly built, because he has suffered great loss (he lost his youngest daughter to a serial killer). God has then scored a successful and direct hit with Mac during this soul searching weekend reunion. The shack is also a bus stop on the way to heaven in which Mac stops, reflects, and tries to make sense of his anger, pain, guilt, doubts, and disbelief. He is even given the choice to either stay or go back to his life…How many of us can say that?
Fractals is another concept that stimulated my imagination. I never heard it before, but Mr. Young explains it perfectly so I was quickly able to infer we were talking about CHAOS. True to myself, I also did some research on them… Fractal comes from the Latin meaning “broken or fractured”. It is a mathematical construction found in nature and artwork. Fractals are composed of repeated patterns, no matter how magnified. Examples in nature include lightning bolts, snowflakes, crystals, mountain ranges, cauliflower, broccoli, blood vessels, clouds, ocean waves, DNA, animal color patterns… Well, let’s just say the whole of creation really!!! Fractals are irregular, self similar, and infinitely complex: just like human beings are! The idea that even chaos has an order and a purpose certainly seems to answer to a higher being.
WM Young presents the Holy Spirit as a mysterious Asian woman named Sarayu. She is the most complex of all characters in the book but also the most fascinating. In The Shack she is described as the wind, creativity, action, spirit and breathing of life. Further research told me Sarayu is also a river that originates in the Himalayas and it is one of the tributaries of the Sacred Ganges. Sarayu flows from Nepal into the Indian state of Utar Pradesh and it is mentioned in the sacred Vedas and Ramayana (ancient Indian texts in Sanskrit). Sarayu is in fact the feminine derivative of the masculine Sanskrit word meaning “to flow or that which is streaming”. So Sarayu as the personification of The Holy Spirit is like the libido, the force of creation, the muse and inspiration, the flow of ideas, the stream of consciousness, the river of life from where we all sprang forth…
I found it amazing that God is portrayed as a motherly black woman. God or Papa as Mac calls him/her, likes to call herself Elousia or Abba. Research told me that Elousia is the Greek term meaning tenderness and it is associated with Russian Orthodox icons of the Blessed Mother, also known as Umilenie and Joy of Joys. The fact that God smells like his own mother to Mac seems to me a strike of genius. Smell is the most ancient of all the senses, often triggering memories that were long forgotten. Smell is also the strongest part of bonding between a nursing mother and her child. When we look at it that way, it makes perfect sense that God will present itself as a loving, tender, caring mother to all souls in need (like Mackenzie’s).
First allow me to contest the fact that WM Paul Young thinks MAN is at the center of God’s creation. I find that both ignorant and pretentious of mankind. The universe is too big for us to even pretend to be the shit. I think humans are just another piece of creation, just like ants, rivers, plants, celestial bodies, earth, dirt, and dust. Believing we are just a speck of GODs’ universe should keep us humble, so we do not develop delusions of grandeur.
Now that I have defined the terms for you, I’d like to quote some of the ideas that grabbed me from The Shack:
1. “We are in a circle of relationship not a chain of command. Hierarchy makes no sense. It is a system of order that destroys rather than promotes relationships”
I found this very refreshing for those of us who live in a corporate, rat race kind of world. Relationships should be our top priority everywhere because treating people with respect and dignity is at the core of relationships…
2. “Relationships are never about power. One way to avoid the will to hold power over one another is to choose to limit oneself to serve” Jesus also tells Mac, “To force my will upon you is exactly what love does not do”
I say parents everywhere should listen to this one!!!
4. “Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved”
5. “It is true relationships are a lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart, and they will never love you. Look for relationships, not rules”
Amen to that!
6. God tells Mac, “Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is my joy to cure it”
Just like anger and hate, sin mainly hurts your own self!
7. Instead of referring to the dead by that term, God refers to them as fully awake…
(mmmmm, very interesting!)
8. Jesus asks Mac, ” Would any of these be any less real if it were inside a dream?”
I say no, once you lived it, even if it was a dream, it is real to you.
9. Jesus also says, ” Just because you believe in something fiercely it does not make it true”.
Now that’s food for thought!
10. Sarayu tells Mac, “Emotions are the colors of the soul. They are spectacular and incredible. When you don’t feel, the world becomes dull and colorless…”
(I really love this one)
11. Sarayu also says, “Don’t ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak.”
Now to a weeper like me, the fact that The Holy Spirit collects tears is pure joy!
12. “Forgiveness is for you the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and ability to love fully”
I say this gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “turn the other cheek”
13. “If anything matters, then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes. Every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes a little”
I say that is a lovely thought…
14. Whenever you have dreams where you are flying, they are a gift from God, a lifting of the spirit, freedom from everyday worries…
This one really surprised me because I used to have a lot of “flying dreams”
I think the great beauty in The Shack is that no matter what religion you belong to, you can still find some wisdom in the simple dialogues between Mackenzie, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The Shack is truly a collection of day to day conversations with God that offer us wise concepts about family, love, communication, friendship, sin, hate, forgiveness, and service to others. I believe The Shack proves that with God in your corner, everything is indeed possible.