Was blind, but now I see.

1 : 6 April 2002



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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

Sigmund Brouwer's Out of the Shadows

Swarna Thirumalai

Cover of <b><i>Out of the Shadows</i></b> by Timothy R. Botts with Kauffmann, Tree photo by Gene Ahrens. Courtesy: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.


Things do happen to us. We call them accidents when we are not able to detect a deliberate design behind these. But every accident does have a structure, function and consequence of its own! An accident may be an unforeseen, unplanned event or circumstance, as the dictionary defines it: "an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured" (Webster's). Accident is indeed a very strange notion, for, although the intent is not easily established or perceived, the consequences may have a pattern and structure! Sigmund Brouwer's Out of the Shadows takes us through the accident - shadows of death - into the light, with faith in the everlasting Light of Hope.


The prologue here plays the part of the narrator, like the clowns in 17th century drama, that present the story and the main characters to the audience. It tells you why and how the hero Nick Barrett is forced to leave Charleston, be banished from his native town and from the girl he loved and married secretly. It is an accident that is described from the point of view of the hero in first person. It is filled with pain, physical, emotional and mental. It is a scene where you see and feel the pain of this man - a scene of negative things, betrayal, despair and death. There is also evil plotting and framing the innocent but it is not very clear who is the real culprit at this moment.


Sigmund Brouwer weaves the suspense into the trauma of the accident. This is a story that grips you and keeps you captive within the fine fabric of the story which is mainly the unraveling of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Nick's mother. He is on this quest and we walk with him on his pilgrimage, painful and illuminating. The author is a master of suspense and unexpected twists. His earlier novel The Wings of Dawn about the Druids and early Christians in England, is another one you would enjoy if you like the unexpected. Like most of his novels, Out of the Shadows is full of intrigues and plots, and portrays the unexplainable miracles that offset human courage and ingenuity.


As the plot of this story unravels, you will see the two people involved and the police chief who aids and abets them. Pendleton, who is Nick's rich cousin, and Helen DeMarionne, the very rich mother-in-law that has other plans for Claire her stepdaughter, will forcefully and effectively intimidate Nick with Chief Edgar Layton's help to sign the annulment of the marriage and leave Charleston and not come back. The only other alternative they give him is to face trial and go to jail for drunk driving and killing Claire's brother who was in the back seat of the car Nick drove that terrible day.

Nick's life has been a journey of pain. His father, Pendleton's uncle, married his mother and went away to the war from which he did not come back. The baby came after a certain gap of time that the people realized he could not have been the Barrett's grandchild. Nick and his mother are the poor relatives and they are tolerated but not accepted as a part of the rich Barrett clan. Just before his tenth birthday Nick hears his cousin say nasty things about his mother - he calls her a tramp and sleaze, and tells him he is not his father's son but that his mother did bad things with men and he was born to some other man. Nick and his mother have had a very close relationship and Nick has loved the talks about his father, admired him so much, and his heart is breaking apart at all these revelations by his cousin. His mother and Nick have been companions, walking and talking, laughing as she told him about the civil war history of Charleston and she taught him to enjoy the beautiful things around him. As he goes on another walk on the Charleston streets, he remembers how much his young life was enriched by her:

From her I had absorbed not only Charleston's history, but her fascination for the pirates and plantation managers and slaves and gunrunners and soldiers, seeing them through her eyes so clearly it was as if they walked the streets or sat on the piazzas of the old mansions as ghosts.

That summer she had left him he used all this knowledge to become a tourist guide and earned some money of his own!


There is a gaping hole now in the trust and love he had for his mother. The day after his cousin's revelations, as they were arguing, he shouts at her, tells her he wants to go away from her, calls her the same names his cousin had used and he throws the silver chain with a cross she had given him. It cuts her skin below her eye and blood begins to flow. She is very sad and she goes out a little later, and that day she leaves him. The rumor was that she left him and went away with a naval cadet she was having an affair with. He could not understand why she would abandon him after all her promises of undying love.


Talking about undying love, it was his mother who taught him about God. He wondered about God and he had many questions - his Sunday school teachers had no answers and ignored his waving hands. Coloring of fishermen and boats did not give him answers!

The novel goes from the past to the present and meanders in and out of physical events and a child's thoughts about church and God and religion.


Nick has returned to Charleston after two decades of wandering the world - "escape under the guise of seeing the world." He had always wondered about his mother's disappearance, not just the pain but the mystery of it. He has actually been invited now to come and search. An intriguing letter asking him to come to Charleston and hotel booking for five days were the incentives given to bring him back after twenty years. As he walks down the sidewalk after Helen's maid comes back to tell him Helen (Nick's former mother-in-law) will see him tomorrow, his mind begins its journey backwards to the days he went to church with mom. He graduated from Sunday school stage and could now be seated with adults:

When I was old enough to join my mother with the adults in the church service, I endured long and boring sermons among the highbrow Charlestonian women, who wore wide-brimmed hats and white gloves and pastel dresses and smiled sweetly at each other across the pews, then turned and whispered vicious gossip during the passing of the collection plate. Where is God in this? I wondered as a child.

A terrible indictment of Christian brothers and sisters that backbite and gossip, which is truly not what a God of love would want!!

Nick also talks of how his mother patiently taught him as best as she could who was God and showed him the difference between faith and religion:

and in so doing, gently led me to trust in a God of love invisible beyond the man-made boundaries of the church. She promised me that god's love was forever, just as a mother's love was forever. Then she abandoned me.


Again you see the pain of the child, when she left without explanation, and he had to live with the Barretts in their huge antebellum mansion, an unwanted outsider barely toletated, mistreated. He is beaten by Larimar Barrett when he goes one day to ask questions about his mother at the police station. So, it is not only his mother's unexplained departure that drives him from God, but many other things that happened in his teens in a loveless rich mansion and then the framing of him as the murderer in the accident that also robbed him of a leg and he had to walk with a false limb, feeling inadequate for evermore. He traveled to many places those years away and his stipend from Helen helped him travel and he also read books. He also gave to charity and did not keep any of that money. None of what he saw in the world, what he saw on TV, and read about Christians and screaming white supremacists claiming to be Christians, helped him any in understanding where God was in all this.


Nick was getting far away from God. But he comments after these twenty wasted years " God, however, as I was about to discover, is a patient hunter."

So, as he travels back, and he is now walking the streets of Charleston, he wants revenge, wants justice, wants the love he had abandoned, his girl Claire. He did not expect God to meet him here. "I certainly did not expect to find God. Or the forgiveness I so desperately needed."

The first time he is able to meet Helen after all these years, she asks him a question, "Do you believe in a God of love?" This triggers in him many thoughts and he remembers the day 'God openly beckoned his soul in the Arizona desert.' This happened after he left Charleston. Three months he hitchhiked westward across America. In Arizona, he trekked to the edge of the Grand Canyon and headed south. He finally came down past Prescott and reached the desert flats. Not too many vehicles came by and he did not get a ride at one roadside turnout and spent five hours there. He did not mind. He watched the roadrunners scurrying from mesquite to mesquite.

That night, Nick pulled a picnic table away from the road and lay on it using his knapsack as pillow. He gazed at the stars and all his childhood interest in astronomy and reading on stars came back to him. He did not have a telescope with him and so he missed seeing the whole 'tapestry of stars woven not only in height and width, but in depth and time.'

Sigmund has a delightful gift of description. He talks about the stars in the sky, so intensely moving and powerful, you begin to imagine the dark desert night and the calm, the quiet and the stars in the vast sky. He has this gift of imagination and the gift for describing the things he has seen in real life or in his mind and he makes the reader walk into the magical world he weaves with words. You become a part of the hero's adventures, his tragedies, his pain and his soul that searches unconsciously for the God who put the stars in their orbits:

Thus peering into the universe is akin to peering backward into time, and this marvel alone should have given me some sense of awe of what God has done in creating something from nothing, but the shutters of my soul at that time in my life were closed tight.

Then God shows him another marvel:

Something in the early hours of the morning woke me from my sleep on that roadside picnic table fifty miles into the desert. I cannot say it was the cold, for I was not shivering. Nor was it a noise. But some instinct that alerted my body. I struggled to my elbows and looked in all direction. When I saw what had wakened me, it took several confused moments to realize what I was seeing.

The moonlight threw silver across the coarse sand and cactus and mesquite. The silver seemed to roll across the ground, as if the sand had become a flowing live tapestry, twenty-five or thirty yards wide, just beyond the picnic table that was my bed.

I hardly dared breathe, afraid to give notice of my presence. For what I was seeing was a blanket of tarantulas, thousands upon thousands of them marching resolutely forward, surging onto the road ahead, then disappearing as my eyes lost them in shadows beyond the road.

Fully five minutes passed as this wide heaving carpet of brown and silver streamed by me. Then they were gone. …

In all that I have read since, I have found no explanation for this gathering of tarantulas or for the instinct that compelled them to march as one to a destination unknown to all but themselves.

…… I sympathize with those that say it is preposterous to think this world is moved by an invisible hand that something or someone created it and exists beyond what we can sense. I too was once reluctant to accept that there might be more to life that what was visible to my eyes.

But is it a truly preposterous notion?

For without God, the universe is a place of despair.

Despair that I well knew that night in my room.

Despair that had been my companion since the summer of my tenth birthday. For while I did not know where my mother had gone, I alone truly knew why she had abandoned me.


Sigmund Brouwer has the agility of mind and thought to bring into words the yearnings of the human soul and the reaching toward a superior being, a superior spirit that is as yet unknown to it. During one of his travels in the deserts of Tassili N'Ajjer mountains of Algeria, he gazed at the cattle an artist had etched on the rock face which caught the sun's rays perfectly. As the sun moved, the shadows across the rock face moved, giving the illusion of depth and motion to the long-horned cattle.

It was in this quiet, had I been so inclined, I might have felt God's call to my soul. Only now, looking back, I can understand the vague unease and peace that filled me to behold this timeless art.

About the yearning of the soul, we see the older Nick on his way to a meeting with Admiral McLean Robertson, another man who, we later realize, played a big part in his mother's disappearance. Nick is walking by the sea wall nodding at fishermen, watching the brown ugly pelicans passing overhead, and he remembers an incident when he was a teenager: as he stepped out of a theater in Charleston on a warm summer night, filled with the emotions of a sad movie, holding Claire's hand, he felt a strange emotion,

above us was a clear dark night and the brightness of the stars, a backdrop of vastness against the emotions in my heart, and something unknown in me responded to this like a harp string plucked by an invisible hand. I yearned with a homesickness to be somewhere else, an unknown place as difficult to define as the yearning itself.


Amelia, Edgar Layton's daughter, is the one who tells him about a miraculous coming back to life of a patient in a hospital where she worked. It is a very dramatic scene. The man is dying and he screams out to be helped out of Hell fires; as they apply CPR, he comes out and screams, " Get me out of Hell! Get me out of Hell! Don't stop, don't stop. When you stop you send me back to hell."

Amelia is not a Christian minister, and she thinks he is hallucinating, but he dies again as they stop for a few seconds to change hands, and screams again as he comes back. So, just to help him from the torment, calm him since she is a doctor, she tells him to repeat, 'Take me Jesus, take me Jesus.' She also tells him to repeat, " I believe you are the Son of God, Jesus." She continued, "Forgive my sins and keep me out of hell," and also, "I'm yours Jesus, Jesus, I'm yours."

The patient croons 'Jesus, Jesus…,' after he repeats her words. He had been clutching her jacket, and suddenly he lets go. But he is not dead; the heart monitor has gone back to regular healthy beats. His eyes wide open, he breathes, "the demons are gone." Then he says, 'I hear singing, glorious singing. Thank you, Jesus, thank you.'

Drama, simple and spectacular at the same time. It is an interesting conversation they have now, Nick and Amelia, about the angel of light. They talk of how the Devil could also appear as the Angel of Light, because his name Lucifer means light.

Then she makes a very intelligent and profound observation - "What if those who have yielded their souls to God in this life reach out to the true light when they pass through the curtain? What if those who haven't are reaching out to embrace hell, the angel of light who is only a deception? What if that's what is waiting for my father?" Her father Edgar Layton had been the source and arbitrator of so many crimes committed by the rich of Charleston, and then he also blackmailed them for money. So, Nick does not answer. Later we come to know that it was Edgar who played the biggest part in the disappearance of Nick's mother.


Comic relief in this sad story is provided by the two sisters, old and full of gossip. They own an antique store in that little town, and Nick knows them from when he was a little boy and they give him some of the information that he seeks, to solve the mystery of his mother's disappearance.

In the last chapter which mostly is the present story, has the 23rd Psalm placed in each different portion of the chapter and the last one is the most poignant and powerful. 'I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.'

The chapter consists of the funeral for Nick's mom, funeral being performed by the only couple who supported her always, the poor black pastor Samuel and his wife. The greatest gift that Helen, his own aunt, has given him was when she told him the last words his mother spoke before she died were, "please tell Nick I forgive him." The novel comes to an end with these beautiful words of a mother and her love for her son, and they bring back to Nick the love of God, the God who was supposed to love him always, and on whom he turned his back when his mother suddenly left. Now he rejoices, "I'd been forgiven. Even as she faced death I had brought upon her, she'd forgiven me. As my mother died, she could only hope her forgiveness would reach me. Because of those final words, her love will wash over me always. The silver cross she once gave me as a gift hangs over my neck again."


The quest has come to an end. His mother did not run away. She was murdered because she witnessed a murder. It was the murder of the naval cadet by two rich men of Charleston. After killing her, the rumor was started about her running away with the cadet. Many of Sigmund Brouwer's novels have a serious quest as the prime mover of all events and main characters. In The Wings of Dawn, we see that the quest takes the young hero across many lands, oceans, mountains, jungles, and caves. Finally, the mystery is unraveled and the quest comes to a joyful end. Quest is a dominant motif of Signmund's novels.

This novel searches our soul as we watch Nick doing a lot of soul-searching. It is also a novel of forgiveness and love. Nick is able to finally forgive police chief Edgar Layton and all others who hurt his mother and him. There is a promise of blossoming love between Edgar's daughter Amelia and Nick as the last chapter closes. There is dramatic irony here, but it is a Christ-like blessed irony, one you could smile at and say Amen.

Sigmund Brouwer. Out of the Shadows. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois. 2001.


Swarna Thirumalai
Bethany College of Missions
6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438, USA