By Lois Lindstrom
Given the combination of the coronavirus and unchecked rioting in many American cities in 2020, many Americans would enjoy stepping back in time to 1904 when Swedish writer, Selma Lagerlöf published her inspirational book, Christ Legends and Other Stories, in which she ultimately became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1909. This 1904 book describes how selfish and mean people act in a very creative way so it resonates in 2020.
Christ Legends comprises a series of fictional short stories that depict all the human drama and mystery of Christ’s life and his message. In Christ’s Legends, Selma Lagerlöf uses a classic style of story-telling which draws vividly on the history and landscape of the Christian Bible.
I particularly enjoyed one of her stories, “Our Lord and Saint Peter.” I will basically quote from her story:
In this fictional tale, St. Peter and Christ are in heaven and St. Peter is in despair because his mother has died and gone to Hell. St. Peter wants his mother to join him in Paradise. St. Peter’s mother, unfortunately, had not been able to enter Paradise because she hoarded her money and she had a never given “so much as a copper or a crust of bread to the poor who knocked on her door.”
God asks St. Peter in the story, “How can you be so sure that your mother would feel at home with us?”
“Who wouldn’t be happy in Paradise?” asks St. Peter.
“One who does not feel joy over the happiness of others cannot find contentment here,” says the Lord.
However, the Lord feels sorry for St. Peter and summons an angel and commands that he should fly into Hell and bring St. Peter’s mother to Paradise.
As St. Peter observes the angel flying down, he sees a great throng of lost souls in Hell. It was as if the bottom of the ravine were made up of nothing but bodies and heads, and he feared that the angel could not spot his mother.
As the angel soared through the skies looking for St. Peter’s mother, the anguished souls wake up and begin stretching their arms toward the angel and crying: “Take me with you!” “Take me with you!” Their shrieks are heard all the way up to the Lord and St. Peter, whose hearts throb with anguish as they hear the sorrowful voices.
The angel catches sight of St. Peter’s mother and picks her up. St. Peter is ready to weep for joy because his mother is saved. And his joy increases when he sees that, quick as the angel has been when he lifted her up, still several of the lost souls had succeeded in attaching themselves to her as she was scooped up. There must be a dozen souls who cling to his mother.
But then St. Peter sees his mother begins to free herself from the lost souls that had been clinging to her. She ungrasps their hands and loosens their hold, so that one after another tumble down back into Hell.
St. Peter and the Lord hear how they are begging and imploring her not to drop them. Then, St. Peter begs his mother to show some compassion, but she does not listen, and keeps right on as before. When St. Peter’s mother has managed to tear off the last poor soul hanging on to her, the angel also drops his mother back into Hell.
St. Peter is so upset. He says to God: “What kind of paradise is this, where I can hear the moans of my dearest ones, and see the sufferings of my fellow man?”
The Lord responds: “What did I desire more than to prepare a Paradise for all, of nothing but light and happiness! Do you not understand that it was because of this I went down among men and taught them to love their neighbors as themselves?Her message is quite clear: Fail to love your neighbor as yourself, and there is no way in hell that you are getting into heaven!
Lois Lindstrom hosts a TV book discussion program, Bookman’s Corner, in Arlington, VA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free Press International