By the River Piedra I sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho

We must never forget that spiritual experience is above all a practical experience of love. And with love, there are no rules. -- Paulo Coelho

Ridiculous, I thought to myself. There's nothing deeper than love. In fairy tales, the princesses kiss the frogs, and the frogs become princes. In real life, the princesses kiss princes and the princes turn into frogs. -- Paulo Coelho

After a decade of separation, Pilar is invited to join her childhood sweetheart.

She finds him to be a different person. He has joined a seminary, has become a spiritual leader, performs miracles.

He takes her on a whirlwind spiritual quest.

Roads are to be travelled, risks to be taken.

By the River Piedra I sat down and wept. Or tears that fall into its flowing waters wash away our sorrows.

A tale of love, of the spiritual, feminine side of God, of encounters with Charismatics.

God created Man and Woman, Adam and Eve. If He created them in His image, does that not tell us God has a feminine side, that we have God the Mother as well as God the Father?

Her childhood sweetheart has his band of faithful followers, but he wants to carry his message to a wider world. A world that is not yet ready for the message he wishes to bring. If he tries, it will lead to his destruction. Shades of The Witch of Portobello to come.

There is a scene where Piedra and her lover are eating in a restaurant. He asks her to take a glass and smash it to the floor. She thinks it a strange request, which at first she refuses to carry out. Eventually she acquiesces. The waiter comes over and clears up the glass, no big deal. [see Break your glass and fly]

The request was in reality metaphor, a request to do something different, to break the barriers that constrain us. To realise these are just barriers, that we can break them if we so choose. Like Santiago following his dream, his destiny. [see The Alchemist]

Roads are to be travelled, risks to be taken.

An infinite number of universes open up before us, we are the one to decide which path we will follow, a simple yes or no will suffice. To take no decision is not an option, as even that is in itself to exercise an option, to take a decision.

Like Santiago in The Alchemist, we must seize the moment, follow our dreams, our destiny.

We point to ones like Santiago and say they are the lucky ones.

No, they were willing to take the risk, the unlucky ones or those who think themselves unlucky, are those who were too afraid to take the risk.

We have to learn to follow our heart, take risks; learn to exorcise the other, not listen to and do what others expect of us.

By the River Piedra I sat Down and Wept (1994) is the first novel in the And on the Seventh Day trilogy, the other two are Veronika Decides to Die (1998) and The Devil and Miss Prym (2000).

By the River Piedra I sat Down and Wept is a book of love

The gods throw the dice, and they don't ask whether we want to be in the game or not. They don't care if when you go, you leave behind a lover, a home, a career, or a dream. The gods don't care whether you have it all, whether it seems that your every desire can be met through hard work and persistence. The gods don't want to know about your plans and your hopes. Somewhere they're throwing the dice and you are chosen. From then on, winning or losing is only a question of luck.

The gods throw the dice, freeing love from its cage. And love can create or destroy depending on the direction of the wind when it is set free.

and the feminine side of God

And God created man and woman, because that was his image and simulacrum: man and woman.

As Paulo Coelho shows, love is not the love of soppy, sentimental romance novels, love is a harsh master, does not care who gets hurt.

But love is always new. Regardless of whether we love once, twice, or a dozen times in our life, we always face a brand-new situation. Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. We simply have to accept it, because it is what nourishes our existence. If we reject it, we die of hunger, because we lack the courage to reach out a hand and pluck the fruit from the branches of the tree of life. We have to take love where we find it, even if it means hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness.

The moment we begin to seek love, love begins to seek us.

And to save us.

If there is one message to be taken away from By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept it is that there is no one path to God. One path is as good as another path. Those who try to claim their path is the one path are religious bigots and fundamentalists.

A theme which runs through all the novels in the And on the Seventh Day trilogy is seven days. Pilar has seven days in which to decide her future, Veronika has seven days in which to live after her failed suicide attempt, Miss Prym has seven days to succeed in her fight of Good versus Evil.

In conversation with Juan Arias, Paulo Coelho gives a lovely example of synchronicity. He was in a Miami bookshop giving a lecture on By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. He explained that he was Pilar as Gustave Flaubert was Madame Bovary. He then read an extract from By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. Part way through the reading, there was a loud noise as though something had fallen, but he carried on reading. When he had finished, it was learnt a book had fallen off the shelves. The book was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert! [see Paulo Coelho by Juan Arias]

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Books Worth Reading ~ Paulo Coelho
(c) Keith Parkins 2008-2009 -- March 2009 rev 2