Maria’s Musings & Advice: Sometimes the Question is the Answer, and St. Paddy’s Day

By on Mar 16, 2017 in Advice | 4 comments

Share On GoogleShare On FacebookShare On Twitter

Dear Maria,

I read The Shack a few years ago, and in a recent discussion in a group I am in on Facebook, I said I liked the book and hoped I would like the movie, too. 3 or 4 readers posted that the book is heretical, and some offered links to reviews of the book from evangelical websites or pastors blogs. I am still on the search for what God wants me to do, and I don’t have a faith that I call my own. The book was helpful to me in that I got to imagine how Jesus could talk to me if I let Him in my life more.

I am wondering what your thoughts are on the novel, The Shack? I was raised Catholic, but am kind of in limbo (so to speak) on where I fit in the Christian worldview. I used to think in a black and white way: “Thou shall do all these things, or be damned to hell.” But, I don’t see how a merciful God would be as concerned about a book I read, more so than my response to what I got out of it. Do you think I should get rid of the book? Do you think I should avoid the movie?


To Shack or Not to Shack

Dear To Shack or Not to Shack,

Do I think you should get rid of the book? No.

Do I think you should avoid the movie? Read some reviews before you decide.

Your experience in that online forum makes me sigh. There’s a lot of that going around these days—quick judgments from strangers. The good news is that your encounter is prompting deep questions about the materials you’re reading, and if they are of benefit to you and your spiritual life. Here are my thoughts:

I had the opportunity to work with William Paul Young, the author of The Shack in 2011. He spoke at The Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, and I led a brief retreat in conjunction with his talk. I asked him about the criticism he’d received since The Shack was published, about 4 years earlier. Based on the critiques I read online at the time, I understood one concern to be that the theology behind the story in The Shack suggests that heaven is open to anyone. Including those who do not follow the Christian faith. Some do not prescribe to this open-door policy of eternal life.

Young has offered us a fictional story in The Shack. Using his imagination, he’s offered us his reflections on big issues concerning life, death, and the afterlife. While his story has sparked heated discussion, he does not offer it as a doctrinal statement on salvation. He explained that his story presents a new image and understanding of God, through the relationship of the Trinity (the Christian doctrine of three persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He portrays these three in unconventional ways. Young’s purpose here is to make God more accessible to seekers. Young also places healing and forgiveness in the context of relationship. By depicting God as a relationship of persons, he has offered his musings on where we might find God’s grace in our own lives, as well. To me, the story reflects a profound understanding of spiritual healing in the face of great loss. Once we get past the book’s heartbreaking premise, we accompanied protagonist Mac on a marvelous journey. His entire belief system is shaken by tragedy. This is the case when trying to survive such a devastating loss. As the layers of pain and regret peel back, Mac experiences profound healing and forgiveness. The story gives me hope that, as Anne Lamott says, “Grace bats last.”

A major part of my spiritual formation has been through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order of Catholic priests and brothers. I posed a question like yours to my dear Jesuit spiritual director one day. His response came from the heart of the central teaching of Ignatian Spirituality, the Foundation and Principle. In it, we recognize that all in life is a gift from God. These gifts have the potential to either draw us into deeper relationship with God, or to move us away from God. The invitation in life is, as these gifts are presented to us, (such as The Shack book or movie), to evaluate them in light of their impact on our relationship with God. So, I ask you what my director asked me: Has your experience of this book drawn you into deeper relationship and understanding of God? Listen to your heart. Attend to your feelings. These will help to discern your answer. I would not trust an online forum to give you the understanding you seek.

The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises have been in the news recently, via the movie Silence and one of its stars, Andrew Garfield. Garfield did the exercises, and Fr. James Martin, SJ, was his director through the process. Check out this video of him discussing the film and his experience with Stephen Colbert:

As troubling as this time is, The Shack has served you by raising these questions. My humble observation: This is your call. Keep going. The answers will come.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. ― Rainer Maria Rilke


The Big Picture: The Contributions of Irish Americans, and the Haze of St. Paddy’s Day Revelry

By Maria Rodgers O’Rourke This column was originally published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat online, March 18, 2010

Top of the mornin’ to ya!

As the fog clears from our heads following the St. Patrick’s Day revelry, it’s fitting to take a moment and remember why we do what we do every March 17th.

Irish Americans have had a visible presence in the St. Louis area for nearly a century and a half, in urban settings and Catholic parishes.  Today, as in many major cities, most Irish Americans have migrated to the suburbs and have blended into the mainstream of American life.  The transformation from “oppressed people” to “mover and shaker” has been quite remarkable.

Lawrence McCaffrey writes: “The fact that 20th century descendants of 19th-century tenant farmers and cultural laborers have become university professors; elementary and secondary school teachers; distinguished novelist, playwrights, and poets; important figures on stage and screen; physicians; political leaders; and corporate executive officers classifies the Irish American Catholic experience as a tremendous success story.”

The rise of Irish nationalism in the U. S. has been a complicated mix of a search for identity, a cry for vengeance against the British, and a quest for respectability.  Many linked their “American destiny to the sovereignty of the homeland,” McCaffrey says.  Thus, Irish Americans have many overt expressions of Irish identity and pride.

These expressions have become key symbols of the Irish American culture, namely: the Irish Flag; St. Patrick; the shamrock; the claddaugh ring; and the “most sacred” of all rituals, the St. Patrick’s Day parade.  The Irish flag, of course, is a symbol of Irish nationalism, and is proudly displayed on many homes, tee shirts, and parade flag polls.  St. Patrick, though not a native son of Ireland, is hailed as the missionary who brought Christianity to the Druid land.  Legend holds how Patrick utilized the native-grown shamrock leaf to explain the Trinity to King Laoghaire (circa 432), converted him to Christianity, and obtained permission to preach the gospel throughout the land.

The claddaugh ring, named for the oldest fishing village of Ireland, is also a popular Irish American symbol.  Medieval in origin, the ring shows a heart and two hands clasped in friendship.  Many Irish Americans wear the ring as a symbol of their heritage, and others use it as a wedding band.

Perhaps Irish Americans are best known for their grand display of pride on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.  “No other ethnic group [in the U.S.] advertises its ethnic character” in the way the Irish do, especially with the St. Patrick’s Day parade, writes Thomas Day.  The parade has its genesis as an outward sign of the advancing status of Irish Americans in the early 20th century, and as another means to give the immigrants a heightened sense of their ethnic identity.  Organizations, such as the Irish Catholic Benevolent Union, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), local Catholic parishes, and family groups marched in the annual parade.  Today in St. Louis the celebration continues, with two St. Patrick’s Day parades celebrated downtown last weekend and the AOH-organized parade held on the 17th.  These events are chock-full of Irish symbols, festivity and music.

Oh, the music!  The Irish’s quest for identity and the experience of loss are perhaps no more dramatically portrayed than in their music.  Irish Musician Van Morrison said: “All of Irish writing, whether it be literature or songs, is based on going away and coming back.”  He made these remarks in a PBS documentary entitled, “Danny Boy: in Sunshine or in Shadows.”  Presenting an historical and musical analysis of the famous Irish ballad, the documentary hailed “Danny Boy” as perhaps the greatest gift Ireland has given to the world.  The enduring lyrics and haunting melody capture the profound loss the Irish have experienced.  The singer shares with his /her beloved Danny Boy the great sadness of their separation, a loss so many Irish shared.  Danny, along with his fellow immigrants, must have felt complicated contradictory emotions –hope for the future in America, and sorrow for the land and family left behind.

This past week Danny’s descendants and gangs of honorary Irish joined the festivities—a remarkable mix of pride, passion, and a great excuse for a drink. In the haze of green beer, tacky beads and slurred sing-alongs, let’s hope we haven’t lost sight of the faith, resilience and accomplishments that were cause for celebration in the first place.

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.


  1. Carol M. Oldendorf

    March 17, 2017

    Post a Reply

    Wonderful question and response! I LOVED the book, I read it several times. I love the response – It gave me hope. Hope to me is the BEST feeling! I have re-read the book during my own big loss and it helped me greatly. Has your experience of this book drawn you into deeper relationship and understanding of God? YES! My God is a loving, understanding, forgiving, reasonable, he makes me feel safe, he is trustworthy, he loves me right where I am no matter what. I have yet to see the movie, will wait for it to come on DVD where I can watch it and cry freely. Loved the quote by: Rainer Maria Rilke.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *