The quote is from the Bible’s Greek Scripture (New Testament), Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 12. What Paul is saying is we really can’t understand who God is – but in time (by which Paul probably means the end of the current age) we will see God face to face.
It seems to me that everything of a spiritual or supernatural nature is like a cloudy mirror or a fog. It’s hard to see and impossible to pin down. But what do you do if this stuff happens and you’re the type of person who likes to have things clear and pinned down?
That is Eli’s dilemma.
In the 1860s, men returning from the war exhibited a varied group of symptoms that became known as DaCosta’s Syndrome, Irritable Heart, or Soldier’s Heart. Today we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In Seeing the Elephant, Eli interviews patients at the new Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane and notices the similarities between himself and the solders. Eventually he goes for help and undergoes an early form of “talk therapy.” The hospital's superintendent, Dr. Stanley, is sympathetic to Eli’s dilemma and gives him a brief explanation of what his patients experience:
They have a few things in common with you: difficulty sleeping due to nightmares or insomnia, or both. Some have heart palpitations. And a few have problems with aggression, anger, or violence…. War takes its toll. I have learned that women are not exempt from its touch. Even those who have not been involved in battle have difficulties. If their loved ones are away, they suffer from anxiety. If their loved ones die, it’s melancholia.
Eli’s issues do not escape Maggie, either. She notes in her journal:
Of course, my Eli has assumed his duties as editor-in-chief [of the Blaineton Register] and, although he is all bluster about it, I know he desperately wants the Register to succeed. I fear the pressure it has put on him is causing his nightmares to worsen. I hope they will disperse with time because he needs to find peace. Oh, dear Lord, he needs to find peace.
But Eli struggles to rid himself of Soldier’s Heart symptoms is not the only thing he is doing in the book. He is never so disabled that he cannot investigate Josiah Norton’s woolen mill and uniform factory, write an article about the abuse of factory employees, be a good Editor-in-Chief, and uncover an explosive story involving the hospital on the hill.
Toward the end of the novel, though, we find Eli lying semi-conscious, having been stabbed in the hospital's riot. He begins to experience another night terror – but then it abruptly changes. Here is how Eli describes his dream to Maggie:
“It started like all the other nightmares, but then…” He cleared his throat. “Well, then you [Maggie] suddenly weren’t dead. You were alive. You told me you always were alive, and I wasn’t mad but rather afraid and confused and I needed to have faith. And…” He sighed. “Maggie, I got this funny feeling I wasn’t talking to you, but to someone else.”
“Who do you think it was?”
He hesitated. “Well, earlier, before I drifted away, Martha Stroud had asked me if I believed in Christ.”
“And what did you tell her?”
“I said it wasn’t a matter of me having the Spirit, but of the Spirit having me.” He swallowed nervously. “But here’s what’s got me all befuddled, Maggie. There was a person in my dream who looked like you. And then she asked the same thing as Martha had asked! It was strange, and everything got kind of iridescent. I felt like everything was going to slip away, so I asked her who she really was. And do you know what she said?”
“She said, ‘Oh, Elijah, I think thee knows.’ Maggie… I wonder… I mean, was it possible that was God? I mean, does that sort of thing happen to people in their dreams?”
“Well, dreams are mysterious.”
“Oh, this was mysterious, all right. But, God? And God coming to me as a woman? Coming to me as you?”
“That’s not so far-fetched. Perhaps God wanted to give you a message.”
“I don’t know. Perhaps he did – she did – I mean, you did – I mean – argh! I don’t know what I mean.”
Eli may not know what he means (do any of us?). However, he does know that he is on a journey that is changing his perception of the Eternal. We’ll see how far it changes over the next few books.
Thanks for hanging in there with me! See you on Monday, when we’ll lighten up when I tell you what I’ve been doing all this week.
Hint: It has to do with sausage, pepper, and onion sandwiches. Yum!