Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is Love?

While the first theme from “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” , War versus Peace, is hidden in the shadows of the text,  another theme is boldly stated in the title:  LOVE.

The search for Love, and for an understanding of what Love is, drives the story and the characters' actions.

There are three possible interpretations of love (1):

The first is romantic or erotic love. This is lowest form of love, as it is of the body and belongs in the material world, containing only the potential of what Love is.

This potential can grow into the second form of love: platonic love, or friendship. This is an intellectual Love, springing from the mind, and it’s a love that still sees the other as separate from the self.

Finally, when love reaches its highest potential, it transfigures difference into a mystical union with all other sentient creatures and becomes Divine Love. Arising from the heart and soul, this highest form of Love allows us to vanquish any sense of alienation that we may experience in an increasingly isolationist modern world.

In “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” Grace represents this ideal of Divine Love. Her compassion for all other creatures–animals and humans–transcends all difference and brings with it peace (the opposite of war) and love (the opposite of hate.)

Grace loves unconditionally: she accepts both the flaws and differences in others with a compassionate understanding born of the Divine Love she feels. She chooses, in humble, ordinary ways, to live out her compassion by showing only kindness. This spiritual gift draws others to her “like beggars wanting to touch the garment of a Master for their salvation.”

Jamila, succumbing to her own ezomo (inner demon), struggles to transcend her prejudices: her physical difference to Lulu is too wide an abyss for her to take a leap of faith and recognise that Lulu is her true friend.

Zahra’s misunderstanding of the kind of love Enoch and Grace share arises out of her obsession with placing her faith in material goods: that which she can see and feel and touch. From the first, she recognises that this outlander, this Enoch, has something to offer. But Zahra sees her alter ego Little Flower as evil, and can’t accept what Little Flower represents in her life.

The innocent Little Flower struggles to exist within Zahra’s soul, seeking a divine connection with Grace and Enoch and the abused girl Hope, while Zahra, finally realising material goods do not offer her the love she seeks, turns to Enoch. “I love you, Enoch,” Zahra says as she kisses him. “This is not love,” he replies.

So, what is love?

If Grace represents the ideal form of Divine Love, Lulu is the protagonist who has the most potential to achieve a state of grace.  And, no, Grace’s name is not a coincidence! 

Born a Pale One, persecuted for her difference,
Lulu learns it's easier to hate than to love
Lulu is doomed to be forever separate from others by virtue of her birth as a Pale One (a person with albinism.) In the “land of normality,” difference is seen as an ezomo that must be conquered.  Despised for her difference from the moment she is born, still Lulu seeks love.

At first, she seeks love in its lowest form: romantic love. In her loneliness, she misunderstands Sub-Prioress Dalia’s compassion, and her love turns to hatred.

Then, on her arrival at the Court of St Jerome, she sees in Jamila the potential for another kind of love: amity.  But Jamila, afraid of Lulu’s difference, cannot offer her the friendship she seeks.

Finally, purified in a cleansing thunderstorm as she hides in the Garden of Remembrance at the foot of Grace’s memorial, Lulu surrenders to the love only Enoch can offer her:
He is a vision of the new day I have longed for all my life. Only this time, I can choose the colour of my freedom. I wipe away the last remnants of my tears and see my future before me: doubt or belief; despair or hope; hatred or love. Which will I choose for the rest of my life?"

But Lulu, although she comes to realise what Love is, still has a difficult choice to face: despite her own emotional wounds, despite her anger at the persecution and betrayals she has suffered, is she capable of showing compassion even to those she hates?


Read “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” to find out whether Lulu chooses to hate or to love.

(1) Osho. 1994. Osho Zen Tarot: The Transcendental Game of Zen. Gateway Publishers. United Kingdom. Pp. 14-15.
Images purchased from iStock

Monday, October 17, 2011

How do we stop The War?

Similar to Joseph’s famous coat, “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” is a text of many layers. Many of these layers only became obvious to me once I had finished writing the story. But there were three major themes I deliberately focused on when writing the draft versions.  

The first of these themes is:

War versus Peace

Unspecified, but ever present in the background of "Dancing in the Shadows of Love", The War encapsulates a major theme of the story: that humans must find peace and unity on a personal level, before they can find it on a universal or national level.

In a spiritual sense, every war concerns the struggle of light against darkness (good vs evil); war can be a means of reducing disorder to order; war echoes the sacrifice made in order to re-instate the original order in both the material plane (real wars) and the spiritual plane.

On the spiritual plane war symbolizes humankind’s internal struggle with duality: a restoration of order would thus restore an inner unity or inner peace to the individual soul.

Each of the three women has a personal “war” to fight: Lulu must fight her hatred; Jamila must fight her ambition and Zahra must fight greed. 

The never-ending echo of The War in the background of their lives suggests that, until these women can find inner peace on a personal level, universal or world peace will always remain elusive to mankind.

"Here rests in honoured glory
A Comrade in Arms
Known but to God"
Normandy, France
Image purchased from iStock
Wanting to change the world and stop The War, Dawud, Zahra's grandson, goes off to fight The War. 

But, Dawud's sacrifice - as was his parents' before him - is meaningless, for The War continues, generation after generation. 

But what happens to Lulu, Jamila and Zahra while Dawud is off fighting The War?

Overwhelmed by the minutia of living an ordinary life, the women battle their "enemy": their emotional wounds and their inner demons in a harsh world that offers little hope of a restoration of order that will bring them the happiness they long for.

But, as the mysterious spiritual guide Enoch says to Lulu, "Make different choices for yourself and you can give mankind a different history." 

The theme  of “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” is a reflection of the words spoken by Indian politician and pacifist, Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948): “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.  As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him...we need not wait to see what others do.

Can Lulu, Jamila and Zahra heal their own nature enough to bring peace and harmony to their lives?

Perhaps, when they find the inner peace that spirals ever outward to embrace their community and the world in which they live, then The War that never ends…will end.

Read more about helping bring peace to the world in this post Looking Inward for Peace


Read about the other themes in Dancing in the Shadows of Love by clicking on the links below:

The Nature of Prejudice; the Illusion of Difference

What is Love?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Can you sever Love from Charity?

I love quotes. Why try and say something succinct when someone far more famous then I'll ever be has already said it perfectly?

In “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” I wanted to use quotes as a road map for my readers. Each chapter has a quote from Shakespeare as a sub-heading. All of these quotes, except for the last chapter’s quote, come from Shakespeare’s tragedies. 

I also needed a quote to place the novel in a general context.

Years ago, before I started this novel, there was one quote that, to me, encapsulated the main theme of the story: what is love? 

My first choice of an opening quote for "Dancing in the Shadows of Love" was the famous definition of love found in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 13:13 which, in the traditional King James Bible, reads:  

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;
but the greatest of these is charity. 

But take a look at this same verse from the New American Standard Bible (NASB):

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Isn’t it interesting that modern versions of the Bible have substituted the word “love” for the word “charity”?  

Foreign translations are also ambivalent in which word to use. The Louis Segond French translation is:

Maintenant donc ces trois choses demeurent: la foi, l'espérance, la charité; 
mais la plus grande de ces choses, c'est la charité

But La Bible du Semeur  (as well as Italian and Spanish versions) specifically uses the word "love":

En somme, trois choses demeurent: la foi, l'espérance et l'amour,
mais la plus grande d'entre elles, c'est l'amour.

Aah! How romantic that word l'amour sounds!

Left: I was brought up on the King James Bible, which uses the word "charity" in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Our family bible, which has the date 1st  June, 1895 inscribed on the inside front cover, is the King James Bible. This was read to me with my mother's milk: my Dad is of the old school, he still reads his Bible out loud morning and evening, as did his dad, and his dad.

Why have modern translations (from 19th century on, particularly late 19th century) started using the word “love” in 1 Corinthians 13:13?

From what I can gather this was to move away from the concept of charity as "almsgiving.” I’m not a theologian and, unable to read either Hebrew or Ancient Greek (which is on my bucket list!), I can’t go into the scholarly debate on the veracity of the KJV text and the source transcripts used (the original translators ignored the Latin Vulgate in use and went to Greek and Hebrew texts as their sources.)  

But the way I understand Paul's true meaning in this verse is based on the archaic meaning of the word “charity.” Not as “almsgiving,” but as agape: compassion, a kindly and lenient attitude towards people or love of one’s fellow men.  In other words, Divine Love.

In “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” Lulu, Jamila and Zahra constantly search for love. They explore various forms of love: eros (erotic or romantic love), storge (family affection), phileo (friendship) and, finally, they each reach a point where they can, if they so choose, explore the highest form of love: charity, or agape.  

Do the three women choose to embrace the Divine Love offered to them at their moment of truth or do they reject the ultimate form of love that exists? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

And, despite its profound influence on the story, when you do read “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” you won’t find 1 Corinthians 13:13 quoted anywhere in the book (although you may find it tattooed somewhere!) As the characters grew and the story took shape into a more universal view of love, I found a more appropriate opening quote to contextualize the story:

There is only one language, the language of the Heart.
There is only one religion, the religion of Love.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Mystic, 1926-2011)

In this multi-cultural world where good people, compassionate people, are defined more by what’s in their hearts than by the organised religion they subscribe too, the idea of agape – Divine Love – as a spiritual, rather than a religious, concept appeals to me. After all, isn’t that what Paul was saying when he said that charity, or love, is greater even than faith or hope?

In the final chapters of “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” Lulu, Jamila and Zahra have to choose between faith, hope and charity knowing that making choices can sometimes lead to tragic consequences: the risks and challenges these three women must face in their search for love are veiled in the quotes from Shakespeare’s tragedies which begin each chapter…except for the quote from one of Shakespeare comedies, which introduces the final chapter:

“Charity itself fulfils the law,
And who can sever love from charity?”
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, Sc iii, Line 363

Yes, indeed. In a world where wars are fought in the name of religions, perhaps the answer lies in reminding ourselves that love and charity are synonymous with Divine Love, irrespective of the shape or form the Divine Being we may choose to worship assumes.  

How would you define the relationship between love and charity?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Shakespeare in the Shadows

Each chapter in Dancing in the Shadows of Love begins with a quotation from one of the greatest writers ever to have lived: William Shakespeare.

Within the quote lies the essence of the chapter it introduces; each quote hints at the arc the character follows as they grow throughout the novel. 

For those of you who like to source their quotes, here is a list of the quotes used, which of Shakespeare's plays it comes from and the full quote:

Chapter 1 (Lulu)

“I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
and, if I die, no soul will pity me.”     
                                                         Richard III, Act V, Sc iii, Line 201
Chapter 2 (Jamila)

"God shall be my hope,
My stay, my guide.”

Full quote is

“God shall be my hope,
My stay, my guide and lanthorn  to my feet.” 
                                                            Henry VI, Part Two, Act II, Sc iii, Line 24

(Here King Henry is alluding to Psalm 119: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.")

Chapter 3 (Zahra)

“Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil,
That mak’st my blood cold?”
Full quote is:

“Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil,
That mak’st my blood cold, and my hair to stare?”
                                                                       Julius Caesar, Act IV, Sc iii, Line 278

(Brutus speaks to Caesar's ghost; "to stare" means to stand upright)

 Chapter 4 (Lulu)

“Et tu, Brutè? Then fall Caesar.”       Julius Caesar, Act III, Sc i, Line 77
Chapter 5 (Jamila)

Fling away ambition.
By that sin fell the angels.”                 Henry VIII, Act II, Sc ii, Line 440
Chapter 6 (Zahra)

“I will not choose what many men desire,
Because I will not jump with common spirits
And rank me with the barbarous multitudes.”
                                                  The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Sc ix, Line 30
Chapter 7 (Lulu)

“The eye sees not itself
But by reflection, by some other things.”
                                                            Julius Caesar, Act I, Sc ii, Line 52
Chapter 8 (Jamila)

“Assume a virtue, if you have it not”
                                                            Hamlet, Act III, Sc iv, Line 161                                                                                                               
Chapter 9 (Zahra)

“What private griefs they have, alas, I know not.”

                                                            Julius Caesar, Act III, Sc ii, Line 215
Chapter 10 (Lulu)

“Trust nobody, for fear you be betrayed.”
                                                            Henry VI, Part Two, Act IV, Sc iv, Line 58
Chapter 11 (Jamila)

“I must go and meet with danger there,
Or it will seek me in another place
And find me worse provided.”
                                                            Henry IV, Part Two, Act II, Sc iii, Line 48
 Chapter 12 (Zahra)

“This is the night
That either makes me or fordoes me quite.”
                                                                        Othello, Act V, Sc i, Line 128
Chapter 13 (Lulu)

“One that loved not wisely, but too well”

                                                                        Othello, Act V, Sc ii, Line 340
Chapter 14 (Jamila)

“These days are dangerous:
Virtue is choked with foul ambition,
And charity chased hence by rancour’s hand.”
                                                                        Henry VI, Part Two, Act III, Sc I, Line 142
Chapter 15 (Zahra)

“Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot
That it do singe yourself”
                                                                        Henry VIII, Act I, Sc i, Line 140
Chapter 16 (Lulu)

“Are you like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart?”
                                                                        Hamlet, Act IV, Sc vii, Line 108
Chapter 17 (Jamila)

“The devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape.”
                                                                        Hamlet, Act II, Sc ii, Line 611
Chapter 18 (Zahra)

“Nought’s had, all’s spent,
Where our desire is got without content.”
                                                                        Macbeth, Act III, Sc ii, Line 4
Chapter 19 (Lulu)

“Ye have angels’ faces, but heaven knows your hearts.”
                                                                        Henry VIII, Act III, Sc I, Line 144
Chapter 20 (Jamila)

“Sometimes we are devils to ourselves
When we will tempt the frailty of our powers.”

Full quote is:

“Sometimes we are devils to ourselves
When we will tempt the frailty of our powers,
Presuming on their changeful potency.”
                                                           Troilus and Cressida, Act IV, Sc iv, Line 95
Chapter 21 (Zahra)

“We know what we are, but we know not what we may be.” 
                                                           Hamlet, Act IV, sc v, Line 43
Chapter 22 (Lulu)

“I will weep no more”  
King Lear, Act III, Sc iv, Line 17
Chapter 23 (Jamila)

“How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?
                                                  The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, sc I, Line 88
Chapter 24 (Zahra)

“Charity itself fulfils the law,
And who can sever love from charity?”
                                                     Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, Sc iii, Line 363

So, what do you think? If you've read the novel, do you think each quote accurately reflects what happens in the chapter? 

And did you notice that the all the sub-heading quotes - except the last chapter - are from the tragedies? Why do you think the last chapter is the only one which has a quote from a comedy?

Next month I'll go into more detail about that quote from Love's Labour's Lost!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Man and the World of Stars

"Man & the World of Stars"
Wenkidu. Mixed media. 2005.

Martin Wenkidu, the artist who created “Man and the World of Stars”, the painting at the centre of my cover, is a deeply spiritual man. His work reflects that. Each painting is redolent with mysterious symbols and ancient myths.

The artwork used for the cover of Dancing in the Shadows of Loveis no different. When Wenkidu and his wife Rae (a talented artist in her own right) delivered the painting, he took time to explain the painting to us. Below is an edited transcript of the recorded conversation.

JUDY (J): Could you explain what some of these images mean?

WENKIDU (W): To do these San Bushmen paintings I have to enter into something of the state of the people who did these early paintings. 

J: Do you ever remember anything?

W: Unless I’m working on it, it can be quite a puzzle. When the San did their trance dances there was lots of clapping and chanting from the women, the feminine/creative aspect. It took those in the dance circle into a different state of consciousness and that’s where I go when I paint these. 

J: Where does the name “Man and the World of Stars” come from?

W: Since the most ancient times, mankind has always looked to the heavens – the world of stars – for answers, for the meaning to life. This painting represents that relationship.

J: What do those three dominant figures mean?

W: The first figure on the left, is a kind of dreaming, a pure God. You can see the streaks of light raining out from the head, into the oneness of being. Light is the original creation. I take the images from the original San forms, but this head form doesn’t have an animal or bird head; it carries the phallic symbol. In one way it could be shocking, but it’s very pure, very elemental.

J: You’re saying it shows the life force that springs from the phallus?

W: Exactly. There is something of the baptism of Christ by St John in this figure. Maybe it’s St John speaking “…and I saw the spirit of God descending.”

J: So this figure is the primal God entity? And you're saying it's male?

W: Primitive people, the loving simple souls who can sacrifice unto God, live in complete union with God and this figure is that of complete union. An androgyne, there is both the male phallus as head and the female breasts on the body: yin and yang combined into Divine oneness. This is the world of the ancient San, where they were one with the animals and the earth and God and each other. Do you see all the animal shapes in the spaces?

J: I see the eland head coming out of the white spiral.

W: The Eland was the most sacred animal to the San Bushmen. Through it they went over into the other worlds, the spirit world.

J: There are a lot of other animals roaming around the painting. I can see several antelope; an elephant, and a giraffe. 

W: This is Eden before the fall: man and nature and god were whole, unfractured and unquestioning. If you look, you can see the leg of the right hand figure has the shape of an antelope drinking at a waterhole. That is man and animals sharing one consciousness; both as one with the water of life, with God.

J: And the middle figure?

W: Ah. This figure is much more knowing. There is the almost triangular shape of the chest and shoulders, they’re square-ish, more logical, and with less gentle flowing than the first figure. This figure is all male; reason is masculine.

J: The age of reason overwhelming the age of faith?

W: More like the time of Classical Athens, Ancient Greece and Rome, when intellectual knowledge and patriarchy began to ascend over emotions and matriarchy. There is still harmony between Man and God, but man is beginning to have an intellectual understanding of good and evil, light and dark.

J: What’s that comet-like image between the middle figure's arms held upright? 

W: That is a porcupine. In Nigeria, to the Ekoi people, the porcupine is closely linked to the spirit realm and here it rains the spirit of knowledge into mankind. This is also linked to the Prometheus myth; the Kikuyu tribe of Kenya traditionally regarded the porcupine as the discoverer of fire; Plato and the Classical Greeks discovered the fire of knowledge; Prometheus stole the seed of fire from the gods. Eve ate the apple from the tree of knowledge and man began to understand that there was both good and evil; light and dark in the world.

J: Is that modern skyscrapers or a city behind the head of the third figure?

W: The third figure is definitely female – the breasts are well-formed and large, her hips have the rounded shape of the San female; her waist is slender. She has more to do with our own times, the modern world. In the background, is the city, the New Jerusalem. Returning to the feminine consciousness, the creative, feeling, emotional side of us that was lost to reason for millennia, since the rise of intellectualism, will take us back to the perfect union with Divine, with God. Do you see how the head of the middle, male figure head is turned to the past, while the head of the female figure turns to the future. In our world, today’s world, mankind must find the answers through the feminine energy of creation and compassion.

J: My husband Beric is strong alpha male energy, and a highly intellectual person; his reason always wins out over his emotions. Are you saying we must abandon reason?

W: No. Look at how the leg of the female figure – the one that becomes an antelope drinking – crosses over, joins with, the leg of the middle male figure. Reason and emotion must join into one consciousness. Unfettered emotion can be destructive, separating us from the real, physical world. Undiluted reason can be oppressive and separates us from the spiritual world. They must join together in equal parts; they must become one; one with each other and one with God, through a balance of both male reason and female creativity.

J: I’m going to write a story about this painting one day.

W: I want a signed copy.
Wenkidu has had to wait a while for his signed copy, but finally the story inspired by this painting has taken on its form. Whenever I got writer’s block when writing this novel, I would put on the Aum chant and breathe this painting in and soon I would be writing again.
Now that you've learned more about the painting, do you think of the cover reflects a story that explores one of mankind's oldest and most complex questions: what is the relationship between man and the unknown world?
Martin Wenkidu can be contacted at