Rob Hansen does an incredible job of placing the reader in the priory for themselves and allowing them to see just what kind of life the sisters live. On Mariette’s first day, the women rise at five o’clock to a ritualized call and response, where Sister Hermance shouts, “In Jesus Christ, my sisters, let us rise!” and the sisters respond with, “His holy name be praised!” (Page 5). The women follow a rigorous and regular schedule for the rest of the day. Embedded in their lifestyle are a lot of rituals and intricate tasks, which have been almost completely legitimized by their repetition.
The women of the priory also live a highly ascetic life, believing that the hard work performed and simple living conditions in themselves alone can give rise to an experience that is greater than anything achievable through other worldly goals. Mariette herself writes prayerfully, “Were it necessary to give up all the worldly pleasures of my life to gain one instant of happiness for you, I would do it without hesitation.” (Page 135).
The way the sisters go about living their spiritual life has a touch of Peter Berger’s idea of masochism to it as well. In Mariette’s talks with Père Marriott, she says, “as I began to meditate on the crucifixion and Christ’s own trials in this world, I became rapt in thought and I found myself again before Jesus, who was suffering such terrible pain…An unquench...
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... common problem of theodicy. If God is good, why would he not help his own followers and prevent them from being led astray? The act of calling in a surgeon implies that religion is not “good” or “powerful” enough which calls into question the order of things within the priory and even the plausibility structure that has been securely established for so long.
Ron Hansen for the most part avoids directly addressing these religious issues; instead Mariette in Ecstasy aligns more with what Mikhail Bakhtin argues a novel is, a presentation of many perspectives. In the end these two perspectives both have their own idea of what the objective truth of the presented world is, and while Ron Hansen avoids directly presenting one side as the one that’s right, his novel brings up the existence of more than one side, which alone is more than many similar religious works do.
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