Friends, I’ve just finished reading “The Valkyries,” a story written by Paulo Coelho. But I haven’t finished understanding it.
Coelho’s stories always do this to me: an initial sense of wonderment, followed by some appreciative nods and smirks, then furrowed brow and furious “No!” and shaking of the head, and lastly, admittance that yes, he got me thinking about some pretty important stuff, that clever sneak.
The wonder comes from Paulo and his wife Chris’ journey into the Mojave Desert for forty days (why forty? A nod to Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness? I remain unsure) in search of his guardian angel to converse with (that’s par for the course with Coelho; he’s always in search of the mystical). They’re also seeking the answer to the question, “Why do we kill what we love?” Which is a giant black hole of debate in itself, assuming one even agrees with the phrasing of the question.
The appreciative nods and smirks come from the introduction of his wife’s perspective. Chris is a grounded Christian who respects her husband’s unusual decision to study magic while having very little interest in it herself. She does, however, appreciate the beauty of the horizons and opportunity to reflect. Her interest in magic is always superseded by hunger, pragmatism and other practical concerns, which remind me of me! It’s a bit annoying at times, that Paulo is so short with her and seems to view himself as superior to her. I’m wondering just how much the real Chris was involved with the writing of this book. He’s also pretty arrogant at times, saying he figured out how to talk with his angel on the third day but had promised himself to stay forty days, so he doesn’t even know why he’s sticking around. Later Paulo says boldly of himself, “the unknown was becoming too familiar for him.” Good for him. Most of us mortals are still seeking, thanks.
But his self-centeredness and scorn are part of another issue at hand: the salvation of their marriage. Together, they journey physically and spiritually, and it is a beautiful and very human conversation.
The fury issues forth when Coelho gets a little too mystical for his own good. I just about threw the book down when I reached this mock-epiphany in the first third of the book: ” ‘There is no love in peace. Whoever seeks peace is lost.’ ”
This ridiculous and patently untrue statement is spoken by Gene, the twentysomething magic master who lives in a trailer in the desert. Chris accepts this notion of no peace with love, thinking to herself, “she could think of not one moment when love had ever brought her peace.” For all Coelho’s nods to the Bible, he sure missed this part.
Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11). Clearly Paul thought peace and love went hand in hand. And in Philippians 4:7, he writes, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God is love, and God delivers peace. Thus peace and love in God are not only possible, they are inevitable.
And, though we’ve become inured to the beauty of the following poetic definition of love, it remains true and lovely. We’ve all heard this one at weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Those qualities bring peace.
I would like to think Coelho is saying that some types of “love” don’t bring peace. The worldly type of “love” that is lustful or obsessive or domineering, or when the object of love is something unworthy, such as money or a person who is inappropriate. However, Coelho doesn’t make that distinction. He has made a blanket statement, general and universal, that love doesn’t bring peace. And I just had to debunk that here for you (sometimes this blog is as much for me to mentally unravel complexities as it is for you to discover great stories!).
At any rate, Paulo and Chris continue their journey, and through Coelho’s stark storytelling, abundance of quote worthy blanket statements (at times beautiful, and as we’ve seen, sometimes true only in some cases), they find the Valkyries, a band of warrior women on motorcycles in the desert. (Can truth be found in the absurd and made-up? Yes. That’s why I love fiction.) Rituals ensue, meditations lead to spiritual discoveries, and Paulo and Chris are terrified at the sudden illuminating appearance of angels, which turn out to be military planes participating in a nighttime exercise. It does culminate in a mysterious angel vision and scriptural recitation. Coelho’s Author’s Note states that all events took place between Sept 5 – Oct 17, 1988, and he rearranged the sequence and added two fictional events. It’s nearly impossible for me to guess what is fictional in this mystical tale that seems to indicate he thinks and lives on another plane of existence.
Like Paulo, I seek peace and an understanding and my place in the world. Like Paulo, I believe the Bible is truth. Unlike Paulo, I believe the Bible is the best source of spiritual truth, and I’d rather go to it than a 20-year-old single guy in a trailer in the Mojave or a red-headed motorbike chick named Valhalla who preaches and prostitutes herself.
And finally, “The Valkyries” will get you thinking about this large, celestial and existential questions. If you like a beautiful easy-to-read story to debate and have you feeling more deeply human and possibly confused but thoughtful, read “The Valkyries,” or my favorite, Coelho’s “The Alchemist.”