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David Adams Richards: God is.

God is.: My Search for Faith in a Secular World

By David Adams Richards
Doubleday Canada, 2009
Hardcover, 176 pages, $29.95

Reviewed by Ross Hebb

It is not every day that a member of the Canadian literati writes something truly unexpected and outside the box of convention and conformity, but this work God is.: My Search for Faith in a Secular World surely qualifies.

Even if you are not a follower of Can Lit – and I am certainly not -- you no doubt have heard this acclaimed author’s name. David Adams Richards has won the Governor General’s Award for both fiction with Nights Below Station Street and non-fiction with Lines on the Water as well as the Giller Prize of 2000 for Mercy Among the Children. And the Maritime author won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in Canada and the Caribbean with The Friends of Meager Fortune.

His latest work is both apology (from the Latin apologia – a spirited defence of faith) and spiritual autobiography, but Richards himself, (perhaps wisely) carefully eschews both terms in favour of the less baggaged “polemic.”

If you are at all interested in the place of Christianity in our society, this work is an engaging read. Richards knows the territory. In his personal life he has run the gambit of estrangement from his Roman Catholic roots, to outright hostility and resentment, to an active and uncomfortable struggle with the reality he calls “Something” and a faith which seeks for truth and integrity especially in our relationships one with another.

Richards, 58, is unapologetic in his naming of the dismissal of Christianity in our nation. He is best at unveiling what passes for conventional wisdom in both our universities and the media: “the derision towards anyone who believes.” As for the world he knows well, “Canada’s writing and intellectual community,” -- it is “as if a doctrine has been set in motion where not to demean religion is sacrilegious.” He quotes Einstein’s words, “Christianity will never be explained away by a smart remark.”

Richards is not at all ignorant, or dismissive,  of the failures and foibles of the contemporary North American church. Whether the misdeeds of the clergy of the more traditional denominations, including his own Roman Catholic Church, or the greed and excesses of the televangelists, Richards acknowledges the reality. He also insists that the search for faith in the Something and the reality of its existence persists and remains unaltered by these human failures. As for foibles, Richards references a recent article in Macleans quoting church scholars who maintain that the “church does not need Christ anymore.” These academics boldly assert that the Church “would be better off without him hanging around.” Although presented as new and provocative, Richards correctly points out that this is very old hat indeed.

For those who seek a peek into his soul, Richards’ work will not disappoint. He references his deep depression of 1982 when he did all his writing in a room in the company of a loaded shotgun, as well as the significance for his family of the date October 17th -- Richards’ birthday, but also the death date of five of his relatives.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the work, from a personal perspective, is the forty-page section of incidents from his life. There he records events which are, for Richards, if not miraculous, nonetheless ones “that left a profound impression.” Ranging from stories about  his teenage stint on a high-school Catholic dance committee, to his years with those who were (literally) murderous drinking buddies, Richards relates how, despite his lack of realization at the time, the Something (God) has been present and at work in his life and his world.

It may be that in these particular stories many readers will find a voice both unique to the writer and at the same time tellingly familiar.

The Rev. Dr. Ross N. Hebb is Rector of St Peter’s Anglican Church, Fredericton.

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