I recently read “Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich with a group of friends who formed a book club.
**Spoiler Alerts! Only read if you are finished reading this book, or don’t mind 😛
After putting this novel down my first thought was “WTF!?” I had been rooting for Cedar, the protagonist in this novel, so hard. It seemed like the book ended with her being totally defeated and crushed by the repressive regime that claims to be “Christian” was an unnecessary ending. I felt betrayed by the author and this book for about an hour after reading. Seriously, I was pissed.
However, when I took a step back and didn’t focus in on every single detail or emotionally grueling turn Erdrich took us on, I was able to see the beauty and purpose behind her novel. By drawing us so closely in with the protagonist Cedar, the father of her child Phil, as well as her adopted and Native family, she allows us to glimpse into a world and feel, as close as we possibly could, the weight of reality in a repressive regime designed to control life from beginning to end. We begin to see how corrupted power, specifically of the very source that brings us life, can have varying and peculiar effects on everyone–both those in control and those being repressed.
The brilliance of this novel is perhaps not that it provides answers to pressing global issues we are facing in our world today, but that it poses so many questions: Does climate change, or any social change for that matter, truly mean the end of the world (i.e. “apocalypse”), or can a new way of life be embraced and found in the chaos? Does the government have a right to control new life, or do those decisions belong to women alone? Finally, what role does religion, specifically Christianity, play in all of this?
It is women who bear, hold and bring new life. They bring to life the soul of the world. This is what makes it so overwhelmingly ironic that somehow, we fear this part of our very existence as humans; we try relentlessly to control the very source that birthed us to life. No force, not even the end of the world, can take away the fierce strength and love of a mother for her child. Despite the most insurmountable of odds, Cedar gives birth, survives and still maintains hope for a day filled with wonder and magic of a new life for herself and those whom she loves, especially her beloved son.
Everyone has a person that suffers greatly for their sake. This imagery of a God of the suffering, one who is with the most persecuted, powerless or despised struck me throughout this novel. Cedar’s adopted mother, Phil, Eddy, her biological grandmother and her Native family all have sacrificed something great for her. As Cedar writes to her subscribers of the Catholic magazine she is the Editor of in her last issue of Zeal: “Someone in this world will always be suffering on your behalf. If it comes your time to suffer, just remember. Someone suffered for you. That is what taking on a cloak of human flesh is all about, the willingness to hurt for another human being”.
There is no way to escape suffering. And, there comes a time for all of us to suffer unthinkably for those we love.
Newness can feel like chaos. And, as humans, chaos usually freaks most of us out a whole lot. But life is chaos, whether it be our inability to control super storms like Hurricane Harvey and the change in our climates that refuses to be ignored, life on this planet is a roller-coaster ride. What may be “apocalyptic” for some is not the end of the world for others.
Take Eddy and his entire character, for example. Near the end of the novel when it seems the entire (white-controlled) society is falling apart and grasping desperately to maintain control, Eddy and those on the reservation are teeming with excitement about the new possibilities that are being presented to their people because the old order of things is dying. Eddy and his people, the Ojibwe, are able to reclaim some of the land that was taken away from them, land that grandmothers had not gotten close to since their childhood and veterans fought for but couldn’t benefit from. Even disorder of the most extreme kind can bring new life.
Lastly, we learn in this novel how futile it is to try to control or contain life. Even the most intensely devised political actions to control in the name of “Christ” and under the guise of “righteous order” could not tame women from bringing new life. As I read this, I realized that women are everything to the future of our world: we determine the physical, spiritual and political health of our planet. The future home of the living god is desolate, detained, depressed and persecuted, yet undeniably (and maybe outrageously so) hopeful. Life will not be denied new life. The woman’s song of new life continues on no matter how repressed or silenced it becomes.
It’s all in how we will right now and in the future react to these drastic social and climate changes, changes that may feel apocalyptic but may in fact be bringing new ways, uncharted territories of life, that define us. Will we try to control, repress, and manipulate these life-bearers to our will? Or, will we, like Cedar bear witness to the beauty, and watch in the darkness with curiosity, tenderness and patience to see how the world around us grows and changes and fills with even more resilience, character and wondrous beauty. It is this beauty, the uncontainable and awe-filled power of Mother Nature, and of life-bearers, aka women 😊, that will ultimately save humanity and lead it towards a surprisingly, peaceful and even better world than we ever thought possible. ❤
In honor of Women’s History Month enjoy this music video from Ana Tijoux called Antipatriarca .
If you’ve never heard of Ana Tijoux before, she is a force of nature Chilean rap/hip-hop artist who has defied many stereotypes to speak her mind through her music.
My favorite verses of this song translated in English remind us: