Author Speaks To Students At Elizabeth School

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ELIZABETH–How could a book rejected by 26 publishers end up selling 15 million copies and touching people in such a way that it is considered a phenomenon?

William Paul Young, author of “The Shack”, explained to his audience at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth on Nov. 11, that what started out as “just a book I was writing for my kids”, has led him and many others to some incredible faith realizations and experiences. All of this, according to Young, proves “there is a God who is moving through the details of our life, and who is good. God works in the context of our lives…with little pieces and coincidences…and is involved in the details,” said.

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The author’s talk was sponsored by the Benedictine Academy Campus Ministry Department and was preceded by a luncheon at the Benedictine Sisters Guest House across from the school, attended by invited Benedictine Academy alumnae, advisory board members, students, religious, and other friends of the Academy. Young’s affable and open manner allowed all to chat with him, snap photos, and have their own copies of “The Shack” signed. All then proceeded to the St. Walburga Monastery Church for Young’s presentation.

Young’s book debuted on The New York Times paperback fiction best-seller list on June 8, 2008, and remained there for 70 weeks. It tells the story of a father, suffering, angry and depressed over the abduction and murder of his little girl. He subsequently encounters God’s healing presence offered through the stunning images of an African-American woman named “Papa”; Jesus Christ in the form of a genial Jewish carpenter of today; and the Holy Spirit in the form of an Asian, pixie-like life-force named “Sarayu”, which, Young explained, means “”wind” in Hindi- “the common wind that catches you by surprise.” “The Shack” tells a story of healing and renewal in spite of the unthinkable horrors and disappointments that life can bring.

“The centerpiece of the book is about relationships,” Young noted as he spoke to the Benedictine Academy students and invited guests who packed the Monastery Church where the author spoke for more than an hour.  “Some of us are so hurt that if it’s about competing, we can’t or won’t do it,” he said. “People help us build our own ‘Shacks’…the ‘house on the inside’”.

“That’s where we hide our secrets because we’re terrified,” Young added. He acknowledged that his own horrific experience of being sexually abused as a child surfaced in the book through the character of “Missy” the daughter of the main character, “MacKenzie” (“Mack”). In the story, “Missy” is kidnapped and murdered, and “Mack” cannot move forward with his own life because he cannot forgive the murderer.

“Missy represents something murdered in me as a child,” Young said. “Sexual abuse does something to you that just busts through every boundary you ever knew,” he noted. And the “trap of secrets” such as these is, that “when someone offers you the love and healing, we don’t believe them- we can’t receive any healing. We build a façade.” It took Young eleven years for his façade “to come crashing down”. “You have to let someone into ‘the shack’, he said”. “God loves us and wants to tear down the facade…God is a relational being.”

Young recounted instances of healing that have resulted from his book, from a prisoner who admitted to herself and to Young in an emotional meeting, that God “is fond of me”, after she had vilified herself for so long because of her crime…to his own mother, who struggled with the imagery of God the Father portrayed as a woman in the book. “God is spirit, not male or female,” Young explained.

“Imagery doesn’t define God, it’s to help us understand the character of God,” Young added. Noting he “struggled with the concepts of God” most of his life, he wanted to “move away from the imagery that existed since childhood.” “I grew up with an angry, disapproving God…Plato’s God…I tried to get away from that concept in the book,” he stated. God’s love is “other-centered…it is a love of nurturing and affection,” he added.

Young spoke about having hope in the world despite challenges and difficult circumstances. He recalled his early life of pain and desperation, a journey which Young refers to in his biographical statement as “both incredible and unbearable” .The author’s hopeful and joyous presence during his vist to Benedictine Academy bore witness to the “potency of love and forgiveness, the arduous road of reconciliation, the surprises of grace and community, of transformational healing and the unexpected emergence of joy”, which he has spoken about often. Expressing this hope and witnessing to the healing he has experienced in his own faith journey through life, Young told his audience, “Who you are matters.” “The way you think, create, speak matters. You’re designed to be you. That’s why trying to be like someone else is not good,” he noted.

Thanking Young for his inspirational talk, Benedictine Academy student Shevonne Gittens said in closing remarks “Your words have provided us with hope and a better understanding of God’s infinite love for each and every one of us.  When our lives get tough and we question where God is in our life, we will always remember ‘Mack’ and the ‘Shack’, and the power of forgiveness.  If we were to write a book review of  ‘The Shack’, it would read: ‘The Shack’, by William Paul Young, changed my view of God.

“With everything that has happened in the past, my trust in God started to diminish as each situation became worse. But after reading ‘The Shack’, I now know that God does not want to hurt me in anyway. He does not make bad things happen because He does not love me. Rather, His love is unconditional and as one of His children. He will never hurt me deliberately.  God is love and always will be,” Gittens concluded.

Wm. Paul Young (left) author of “The Shack”, posed with Benedictine Academy student Shevonne Gittens, prior to his presentation to students and invited guests on Nov. 11. “Your words have provided us with hope and a better understanding of God’s infinite love for each and every one of us,” Gittens later told Young in concluding remarks following his presentation.

Author Wm. Paul Young speaking in St. Walburga Monastery Church to Benedictine Academy students and invited guests, Nov. 11.

Wm. Paul Young signed copies of his book, “The Shack” for Benedictine Academy parents and other invited guests following his presentation on Nov. 11.

Ludmilla Perez, a senior at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth, has her copy of “The Shack” autographed by author Wm. Paul Young.

Prior to his presentation on Nov. 11, “The Shack” author Wm. Paul Young (far left), met Benedictine Academy students and invited guests at a luncheon in his honor at the Benedictine Sisters Guest House in Elizabeth. Pictured with Young are (l-r): Geraline Arroyo of  Union, and Sara Pereira and Ludmilla Perez of Elizabeth. All are seniors and Campus Ministers at the Academy.


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