The best stories keep you thinking long after you read them. They hang around and whisper to you…they nudge and prod you…they force you to consider (or reconsider) what you believe. These are the stories I read, and the stories I try to write.
So, of course, that make me think about Outlander (feel free to go grab a cup of tea—or some whisky, I won’t judge).
Ok, now that we have that out of the way…
One of the things that I love about Outlander is the spirituality it encompasses. I mean, obviously Jamie is Catholic. The books have an amazing number of prayers, in an impressive array of languages (English! French! Gaelic!)* And, of course, it makes me feel guilty because I do well to mutter a few prayers in my one language, whereas Jamie seems to have about a million prayers—really long prayers–memorized…but I digress.
Jamie is a highlander, and the superstitions of his time are as much a part of his life as his Catholicism is. He knows the patron saint for every occasion, just as he knows how to keep a spirit from leaving its grave (salt!). He takes blood oaths, and he recites the Act of Contrition in French. He carries a dried mole foot in his sporran to ward of rheumatism, and he prays nearly unceasingly for Claire and their unborn child after he is forced to send them back through the stones. (If you have not read “The Scottish Prisoner,” yet, why the heck not!! Seriously. Also, I am normally not an audio book person, but it was amazing.)
There are entire books and blogs and discussion boards that happily deconstruct the symbolism and superstition in Outlander. But what really interests me is Jamie’s duality—the way that his Catholicism and the pagan traditions of that time and that place are inextricably woven together.
One bit, in particular, comes to mind.*** It is from Echo in the Bone (so, if you didn’t heed my spoiler warning, consider this your last chance)…
…that particular spring always had the air of being remote from everything. It lay in the center of a small grove of white ash and hemlock, and was shielded on the east by a jagged out-cropping of lichen-covered rock. All water has a sense of life about it, and a mountain spring carries a particular sense of quiet joy, rising pure from the heart of the earth. The White Spring, so called for the big pale boulder that stood guardian over its pool, had something more—a sense of inviolate peace.
The closer I came to it, the surer I was that that was where I’d find Jamie.
‘There’s something there that listens,’ he told Brianna once, quite casually. ‘Ye see such pools in the Highlands; they’re called saints’ pools—folk say the saint lives by the pool and listens to their prayers.’
‘And what saint lives by the White Spring?’ she’d asked, cynical. ‘Saint Killian?’
‘Patron saint of gout, rheumatism, and whitewashers.’
He’d laughed at that, shaking his head.
‘Whatever it is that lives in such water is older than the notion of saints,’ he’d assured her. ‘But it listens.’
I walked softly, approaching the spring. The jays had fallen silent now.
He was there, sitting on a rock by the water, wearing only his shirt. I saw why the jays had gone about their business—he was still as the white boulder itself, his eyes closed, hands turned upward on his knees, loosely cupped, inviting grace.
I stopped at once when I saw him. I had seen him pray here once before—when he’d asked Dougal MacKenzie for help in battle. I didn’t know who he was talking to just now, but it wasn’t a conversation I wished to intrude on.
It was there that Jamie uttered the prayer that defines his life, his love, and his heart: Let me be enough.
Despite the many long litanies that Jamie had memorized over the years, in his times of greatest need, his prayers were always simple, direct, and heartfelt.
Let me be enough.
And for those that have read “The Scottish Prisoner”…
Lord, that she might be safe. She and the bairn.
When there is nothing else he can rely on (not his strength, or determination, or sheer willpower), Jamie takes his fear and desperation and quietly “offers it up.”
When I read “The Scottish Prisoner,” I thought about how overwhelming it must have been for Jamie. To simply not know if someone was alive and safe. No wonder that Jamie considered it his own purgatory on earth. I imagine the desperation nearly suffocating him, and the only way to keep the panic at bay was to repeat the words and to hold onto them like a lifeline.
Lord, that she might be safe. She and the bairn.
No answers, no certainly, no closure. The only possible path to peace is through acceptance.
I always thought in the first two books Jamie is rather like a shield. He is happy to put himself between Claire and danger. He doesn’t flinch from taking whatever pain or suffering is directed at her.
But in the later books, Jamie is more like a stone. Yes, he can still be a barrier, but age and wisdom made him more than that; he is also a foundation…and Claire (as well as the rest of their family) builds her life upon him.
Jamie’s spirituality, his Catholicism, and his deep and abiding faith also influence those around him. I was amazed by the changes in Claire, of course, but I was also intrigued by the changes in Young Ian (have I mentioned how much I adore him?). [And, for the record, I am planning to do additional blogs to talk about religion/spirituality as it relates to Claire and Young Ian.]
And, honestly, the books have changed me…they made me want to be a better Catholic. I have highlighted huge sections of the prayers on my Kindle, and I have tracked down quite a few old prayer books and books on the saints. I have also picked up a book on Highland superstitions. It has a lot about plants and blessing to say when you plant and harvest certain wee herbs. (With my gardening skills, a few prayers certainly wouldn’t be amiss!)
I have found that I find a great deal of peace while puttering around the garden and feeling the wind in my hair and the cool grass underfoot. And the chickens help, too. Perhaps it is the sense that you are responsibly for something other than yourself.****
But then Jamie already knew that. Claire was right, he was too quick by half.
* I keep promising myself that I will collect all of the prayers** in one place where I can refer back to them.
** This would be much easier if the publishers would, someday, offer the full collection of novels (and novellas), in order, as one digital file, so that I could use the search function for this purpose. Please, please do this someday, book publishing people, because I would throw money at you to be able to have this!
***Yes, I know there are tons more. So let’s talk about them! Leave a comment with your favorite snippet or scene that shows Jamie’s spirituality.
****No, for those wondering, I did not name any of them Laoghaire…or Claire or Jamie, for that matter. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, they are all named after Scottish clans: Seton, Maxwell, and *ahem*…MacKenzie and Fraser.