Can human society ever learn to live in a world without prejudice? What will it take to heal the wounds the nature of prejudice inflicts on its victims?
As sentient creatures, we all have the potential to experience spiritual enlightenment: that moment in time when divine grace activates our higher self (the divine potential we carry within us).
Spiritual awakening dissolves the individual’s emotional and intellectual attachments to any preconceptions, usually the causes of the prejudices which divide us, e.g. race, religion or gender.
Thus, once enlightened, the individual can cut through the separations and imperfections of this physical world and grasp that, essentially, there are no differences between us: we are all essentially the same when stripped of our external differences.
An important theme of my early novel “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” is the illusion of external differences such as skin colour, wealth and social standing as an underlying cause of human prejudice.
A “Pale One,” Lulu is ostracised and punished for her physical difference to others. Jamila and Zahra, too, have differences to what society considers “the norm” and they also feel the cruel effects of being victims of prejudice.
Grace, however, is enlightened. She is an ideal against which others measure themselves, because she has the compassion to see beyond external differences to the divine potential within all. “Our hearts are one and the same, dear,” she says to Zahra, “despite the unfortunate differences the world imposes.” Grace knows there is another reality beyond this world (she has visions of angels and Jesus) and she recognises Enoch not only as a separate being (one of her poor strays), but as a part of her spiritual self.
Watching Enoch and Grace together, Zahra cannot tell where one ends and the other begins: whenever she looks at them they appear as one. She sees that, no matter what tragedies life imposes on her, Grace is always at peace. Zahra is torn between being both Zahra and Little Flower – an inner duality arising from the prejudices she suffered from as a child – and yearns for what Grace has.
Building a hard, ruthless shell around herself in an attempt to separate herself from other people’s cruel prejudice, Zahra crushes the gentle side of herself (Little Flower) that she thinks turned her into a victim. Her tragedy lies in that she seeks peace from her inner “war” (between the powerful Zahra and the weak Little Flower) in the wrong places. She places her faith in the objects of the material world, her possessions: the silver sugar shaker, her pearls, the mahogany cupboard and the trigger on the gun that “saved” her. She often becomes incensed with Grace, for she cannot yet understand what Grace does: that we are linked in pain and peace through our common sentience, not separated by our physical differences such as skin colour, wealth and social standing (or perceived lack of it.)
In much the same way that nations use war as an excuse to annex another’s possessions in the vain hope it will bring a lasting peace, so Zahra tries to annex Grace’s position and possessions in the hope that she will find the inner peace that fills Grace. Instead, her search leads her into a dance in the darkest shadows of her soul.
Jamila, too, seeks an end to her inner “war” in the external world. She thinks her peace will come through acceptance by those she sees as “high society.” She shifts between believing that her faith in the Spirit King, and all that his suffering on the nova symbolises, will save her from her pain, to believing that only marriage to the wealthy, elite Dawud can save her. Jamila’s need to become part of those she sees as perfect in this world – the ideal she wants to achieve – leads her into a battle between her sense of spiritual unity with Lulu, despite their physical differences, and her inner demon of shame, which makes her think acceptance by an elite society will bring her the inner peace she seeks.
Not by her own choice, Lulu is separated from a physical oneness with others. She is born a Pale One, and believes no-one can love her because of their prejudices. Lulu is seen by the majority of people as evil, that is, as someone who is evil because of her physical differences. From an early age, Lulu is taught to believe that her difference is an ezomo, a sin or demon she must be punished for. Her only hope of redemption lies in her longing for a love or friendship that will see her as “normal.” When she realises that, through no fault of her own, the physical reality of her skin colour will always separate her from others, she feels victimised and is filled with what she sees as a justified anger.
The outlander, Enoch, brings Lulu into a spiritual awareness (enlightenment) that the love she seeks can only come if she chooses to rise above her anger and the inner pain caused by the prejudice of others. When she can, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says "read the secret history of her enemies, and find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility," it’s then that she will come out of the shadows and dance in love. Enoch the prophet shows Lulu that, through a simple act of forgiveness, she will find neither l’amour nor friendship but rather: a Divine Compassion for the suffering of others.
Book Review of "Dancing in the Shadows of Love" (first edition, with old cover)
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