Author as Proxy

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I was about thirteen years old when a bus took a dozen of my Mormon friends and me from our hometown in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Manti, Utah. There inside the Manti LDS temple, one by one we entered the water of the enormous bowl-like baptismal font that sat atop the golden statues of twelve oxen that represented the twelve tribes of Israel.

All of us were looking around for the spirits that other people told us they’d seen materialized in a temple, for Mormon doctrine teaches that the spirits of the dead continue to inhabit the earth long after their bodies die. But as a man baptized me rhythmically 30 times in a row for deceased women whom I’d never heard of, I saw only the swirling of the water above my head and held my breath again and again and again.

Nevertheless the act held its own satisfaction:  I knew what it meant to be a proxy, to take the place of someone else, to do what he or she cannot do.

The process of leaving a system of thought as rich and as gratifying as I found Mormonism was painful beyond words. For years, my non-fiction books such as The Mormon Mirage described the nuts and bolts of what doctrinal points caused me make that exit.

I’d always been an avid reader of fiction, but never thought I could write it well. But one day I knew that I must write about leaving one’s treasured faith, and write not just from a list of scriptures or facts or historical anachronisms.

I made the plunge, to be a proxy for readers.

What would you do, if you woke up tomorrow morning and found that the God you have worshiped all you life doesn’t exist? That all your hours of serving, bringing people to church, study and prayer and sacrifice – all of these were shot toward a target that’s only imaginary?

In my first novel, Latter-day Cipher, I took this gut-wrenching journey with my Mormon protagonists who lose faith in a God who is a former man; lose their cherished hope to become gods and goddesses themselves.

But that’s a story that I can tell because I’ve been there. I let you go there with me, so that you can understand some very good people – your Mormon friends and neighbors.

In fact, that’s what all the other authors – Bonnie Grove, Debbie Fuller Thomas, Kathleen Popa, Patti Hill, and Sharon K. Souza– I blog with at NovelMatters do: We take on thorny, spiritually unmanageable issues. We are proxies for those who have lost heart because of infertility, spousal unfaithfulness, death of loved ones, rebellious children, loss of income, loss of home, loss of faith.

That’s what a Christian writer of fiction must do. To enter into these firestorms in the asbestos of a novel and show where the way of escape is, where the rescue can start.

That was the function of Jesus. He was the ultimate Proxy. And look at His prayers: Almost without exception – and that, facing His own impending death– He prayed for others. Proxy prayer, or intercession, is the highest form, the acme of the art of communicating with God.

From the point of view of the author as proxy, our readers often seem to us as disembodied as the women for whom I was baptized in Manti. There’s the occasional email or book review or online post, but we work alone in front of computer screens, sending our characters into the deepest places of the human heart as proxies for our readers – and for our own singed, precarious souls as well.

That is its own satisfaction. That is its own reward. And it is enough.

(Photo credit: LDS.org)

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