Back of book: "Schmidt," Mother Maria marthe said, "Ve build a shapel. I show you." She reached into her pocket and produced a sketch on a piece of coarse wrapping paper. It was a good sketch of a small church. "Who builds it?" Homer asked. The nun's eyes drilled into him..."It you think that I'm building that, you're out of your mind," he said. Homer Smith, a black ex-GI, was a carefree man living the life of the open road - until he met a group of German-speaking nuns with a dream.
I'm probably reading too much in this, but the idea of a drifter encountering German nuns strikes me as allegorical for the spiritual drifter seeking something and finding Christian mysticism. Here, German Christian mysticism. Not bad company. This novel is not meant to be taken allegorically, at least I don't believe that was the author's 'conscious' intention. But I can't help reading it in this sense. I also like to take a small opportunity to defend the word 'mysticism' and the concept standing behind it. the reason why I see mysticism in this story is because of what the story is and what it represents to me. The story is a simple narrative about a group of nuns who encounter a drifter, a jack-of-all-trades who reluctanctly decides to build a church for them. This story is about the power of prayer, and of faith. The story is about a mode of living that is exemplified to perfection in Christ, whom the nuns emulate. The title itself is an allusion to Scripture.
But this story is mystical because of what 'mysticism' means, to me, and traditionally. Mysticism is merely another term for contemplation. Deep prayer and contemplation. And the story is mystical because it is simple. The story is also full of mystics, someone who embodies simplicity, a simple love for Christ. The main characters, German nuns and a drifter, are nearly perfect modern definitions of that term, mystic.
I recall a conversation I once had with a Christian woman. She was not an orthodox Christian but rather a progressive, someone who combined modern concepts with Christian theology. In our conversation, in explaining to her some obtruse theological concepts I threw in the word 'mystic' a lot. Finally this Christian friend of mine confessed that when she thought of that word, there was always a demonic connotation in it. That is truly a shame, because whenever I think of mysticism I think of St. Teresa de Jesus, a Spanish mystic who possibly coined the term. I have not done research on this. Anyway I bring this up now because this novel depicts mystics in the truest sense of that word, simple people with a deep love of God.