“Where is God when children suffer?”
This is perhaps the most difficult, and at the same time the most often asked, theological question. Dostoevsky asked it in The Brothers Karamarsov. We ask it when we see a picture of a dead Syrian child washed ashore after seeking refuge from his war torn country.
It is the question I have personally struggled with since my daughter Laurie died from a rare and virulent cancer twenty-eight years ago. After thousands of hours of writing, hundreds of false starts, and probably a dozen different versions, Requiem in Stones is my answer.
It took twenty years to find what I felt was the right way to tell the story. Requiem in Stones began as a memoir, but I was never able to step back from my grief and look at it with the perspective a good memoir requires. I also became aware, as I read other memoirs by grieving parents and heard stories in counseling sessions, of the deeply personal nature of each parent’s story. No one, I realized, can advise another person on how to grieve—each of us has to find our own way.
During the years I was trying to write a memoir, I was becoming more and more drawn to Christian spirituality, especially Centering Prayer, a form of meditation. Gradually, I saw that the real story I needed to tell was the story of faith in God lost/ faith in God resurrected. Reading writer Gregory Orr and the journals of visual artist Kathe Kollwitz, listening to the requiem masses of Mozart, Verdi, Brahms, and others, all helped me see how art—in my case, a novel—could be the way to tell the story.
One of the interesting aspects of turning a memoir into a novel is how the characters took on lives of their own. Some merged into a single person. Some changed sex. Some became stronger or more likeable; some weaker or more unpleasant. Certainly my protagonist, Tom Jacobs, and I share a similar loss and a number of similar reactions, but ultimately, his story became his own.
Everyone grieves differently, even fictional characters.
Requiem in Stones is my answer to the question of where is God when children suffer…for now. This answer may not be your answer, but, perhaps it will it provoke questions that lead you to find one of your own. As we say in my twelve-step program: “Take what you like and leave the rest.”
The novel falls under the category of “Progressive Christianity.” As is often the case with grief, the language is occasionally rough and there are some nasty scenes. Still, it should be of interest to church groups, organizations like the Center for Grieving Children and Compassionate Friends, and readers who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” I am also available for readings at libraries, bookstores, organizations for grieving parents, churches, or contemplative groups. I offer workshops and facilitate discussions about grief and faith and how to write about them.
To help facilitate further discussion, I have outlined some discussion questions which can be used to accompany your reading. A link to questions can be found HERE.
“Rick Wile pulls no punches in this urgent novel, taking his protagonist deep into the very marrow of a father’s grief. Tom Jacob’s sojourn becomes, through his encounter with the darkest corners of his complex and cavernous self, a pilgrimage toward peace and a soulful abiding that amounts to a restoration of his devastated faith. The reader who makes this pilgrimage with him may well be similarly restored.”
—Richard Hoffman, author of Half the House and Love & Fury
“Richard Wile, a much published nonfiction writer, uses fiction to lead us through a profound archetypal Christian journey of suffering, bottoming out, and redemption. Following the death of his child, the narrator loses his faith. He grapples with God as his harrowing spiritual path gradually leads him toward surrender, service, and transcendence. Requiem in Stones offers spiritual consolation to those who struggle to reconcile grief and belief.”
—Lee Hope, author of Horsefever, a novel