“To oars!” cried Fintán, throwing the improvised rudder wide to turn the ship. “Row for your lives!”
I gaped in disbelief. Sea Wolves…I had heard those dreaded words all my life and feared them. Now, confronted with reality, I could scarce take it in.
“Row!” shouted Dugal, leaping to his place. Seizing his oar, he lashed the water like a man insane.
–Stephen R. Lawhead, Byzantium, page 70
As a ninth-century Irish monk, Aiden is chosen to join a quest. He wasn’t looking for adventure. Rather, he was living the quiet, contemplative life of a scribe when plans changed for him. Taken from his home of Irish rolling hills, his new path tosses him from the stormy Atlantic, to the lands of the fearsome Norsemen, to the cerulean waters of the Mediterranean, before arriving at the golden domes of Byzantium and the dry Arabian deserts. He left Ireland with innocence. He embarked on his adventure thinking he knew himself, that the world was a place of wonders and goodwill. You and I know it’s not. Amid a glittering, corrupt empire, Aiden discovered parts of himself he would rather not have met. On his journey, he was at times a slave, ambassador, spy, heathen, Viking and Saracen. He lost most of his friends. For a time he lost his way. “Yet in the end was granted the rare gift of knowing and choosing his destiny” (Lawhead, Byzantium, Introduction).
When Stephen Lawhead writes, humanity leaps off the page. His way of looking at characters helps us shape and identify our own struggle to know ourselves, become and reconcile the choices we’re given. And he does it with such a light, graceful and passionate lining of words. I think if Eugene Peterson were reading this to us, he would call it subversive spirituality – the kind that doesn’t come in the front door, but rather, captures our imaginations and imparts knowing…without us knowing it. We just feel enriched, enlivened…and eager for more.
I hope this summer will not pass before you go on this kind of adventure…the kind where your imagination soars, your heart beats fast and you can’t wait to turn the page. Byzantium will be that journey.
Good Read #2: Byzantium by Stephen R. Lawhead