How do we reconcile our experience of divine love with the evil we see around us every day? Gracia Fay Ellwood calls upon the biblical origins of Quakerism and other archetypal stories to help us answer that question. In an eclectic collection of essays from her online monthly journal, The Peaceable Table, she reimagines stories ranging from Eden to Emmaus and from Dante to Tolkien. In the retelling, the concerns of people who lived long ago are made comprehensible to the modern mind, and our common failings also become more understandable, if not more justifiable.
In Taking the Adventure, Mordor—the circle of Hell for which we all must account—is the world of animal agriculture, where billions of suffering beings are born only to be tortured and prematurely killed. Friend Gracia Fay was raised on a family farm and knows the despair that can permeate even that most benign of agricultural endeavors. She has compassion for evildoers but minces no words in her condemnation of the deeds of those who perpetrate the ghastly conditions of factory farms.
Stories do not always reveal an inner truth. They sometimes blind us to reality and create the conditions for self-justification. But they also have the power to reveal the good, the bad, and the potential that lies within each of us. Ellwood observes that resistance to the idea of giving up meat arises from motives far deeper than a trivial clinging to indulgences, although “the dead hand of tradition and habit is heavy indeed.” Rather, a challenge to our animal-sourced food choices can shake our whole worldview and threaten our understanding of ourselves as moral beings. We thus willingly allow businesses which are ruled by greed to make our choices for us. Given the minimal governmental restraints, owners of factory farms continue to inflict unspeakable cruelty rather than relinquish the smallest hold on their treasure. And yet we may pity even those dragons sitting on their gold, for “such cravings … can never be satisfied because they are at their root longings for what is infinite.”
The author wraps up the book with a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, with its implications for our daily lives and for life after death. Although most of the book focuses on Christian themes, those who are open to the possibility of paranormal phenomena will be interested in the discussion of near-death experiences and contact with the unseen world.
Taking the Adventure’s exploration of human motivation does not claim to explain all evil: the author concludes that much must be accepted as mystery. But it does help illuminate the darkness that separates us from each other and from the rest of the living world. Ellwood believes that once we perceive that paradise lies within all things, we will come to understand that George Fox’s “hidden unity in the Eternal Being” includes not only all humans but also the rest of the living world.