One doesn’t expect to laugh while reading of tragedy, grief, and healing. And yet, that’s exactly what happened when I read Skylar Hamilton Burris’ When the Heart Is Laid Bare, which Double Edge Press has graciously made freely available to Christ and Pop Culture members. While grappling with death and suffering, Burris successfully weaves wit and humor into her story lines.It is within friendship that the basic tenets of the Christian faith are pondered, discussed, and applied to life’s trials and joys.
When the Heart Is Laid Bare unfolds linearly over two years. It depicts responses to tragedies—death, unrequited love, betrayal—in a real way, but not in a depressing manner. Along with the main story of Coach Calder Johnson, the narrative explores the sorrows and grief of other characters within its pages. They carry their burdens, interact with each other, and find friendship and healing along the way.
Told with the first-person perspective, the point of view shifts from character to character: “Chapter 1: Jacoby” “Chapter 2: Calder” etc. Overall, the book is written from the perspectives of four different characters. This device gives a full account of several relationships in the novel, while springing surprises on the reader in others. The surprises beautifully demonstrate how easily we misinterpret others’ behavior and motives.
One of the chief enjoyments in this book is how matters of faith are presented and incorporated. Thoughts on Christian beliefs and forms of worship are given from three different characters. Personal musings become interpersonal dialog. The conversational tone of both invites reaction and interaction from the reader.
The Anglican priest and widower, Jacoby Reynolds, provides most of the theological pondering. It wittily infuses much of his thinking and speaking.
… [Calder] steps away from the vehicle, informing me that when I return his car, he’ll grill us up some bratwurst, and I can’t help but wonder why God forbade the Jews pork, whether the injunction was deeply symbolic or merely an extreme exercise in self-discipline. (p 115)
Through Jacoby, we receive a dismissive account of Calder’s modern church. He later admits:
But if I am honest with myself, however much I love the via media [middle way] that is Anglicanism, I am a kind of homeless Christian who could find both fault and virtue in any lodging. (p. 323)
Calder Johnson possesses a lackadaisical attitude toward Christianity. The death of his wife awakens him to his dearth of spiritual depth. Having not been trained in basic spiritual disciplines, he flounders while attempting to cope. Jacoby gently introduces him to ancient Christian prayers and practices. Calder feels strange reciting set prayers, but soon finds comfort in praying the time-honored words. Through Calder, we experience the novice’s perplexity at the unfamiliar rites and archaic terminology within the Anglican liturgy, yet also the realization of its beauty and benefits. It is within friendship that the basic tenets of the Christian faith are pondered, discussed, and applied to life’s trials and joys.
Throughout When the Heart is Laid Bare, Burris lightly sketches just enough circumstances, thoughts, and conversations to convey the narrative. On matters of life, suffering, and Christian faith, we read of the characters’ experiences, realizations, and conclusions. This work provides plenty of room for the reader to ponder and parse its themes and arrive at their own conclusions.