En­ter by the Nar­row Gate is rich with ques­tions of re­li­gion and faith, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two, what hap­pens when re­li­gion turns to fa­nati­cism, and how easy it is to mis­in­ter­pret some­one else’s spir­i­tual mo­ti­va­tions.

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - Gate Gate,

Fa­mil­iar New Mex­ico lo­ca­tions abound in from El San­tu­ario de Chi­mayó to La Choza, a restau­rant in the Santa Fe Rai­l­yard area. Carl­son takes great care with his de­pic­tion of the state’s his­tory and cul­ture even as he fic­tion­al­izes and con­flates small de­tails for dra­matic ef­fect. Ev­ery char­ac­ter re­ceives this re­spect­ful treat­ment as well, from El­lie, the miss­ing girl, to a dead boy with whom she and Vic­tor went to col­lege that we never ac­tu­ally meet. The broth­ers of St. Mary’s are a var­ied and eclec­tic ar­ray of per­son­al­i­ties, some of whom are quite open to new ideas and dif­fer­ent faiths, while oth­ers are so closed-off that they live in a state of with­ered rage. The novel, while grounded firmly in the­o­log­i­cal and spir­i­tual themes, is not a Bi­ble-based mys­tery but an ex­plo­ration of hu­man­ity.

“I grew up in a fam­ily that was tight and rigid, re­li­giously, and so my whole life I’ve been in­ter­ested in look­ing with­out judg­ment at how peo­ple find mean­ing in their lives. If some­one were to read my book and think that I’m pros­e­ly­tiz­ing, then they have re­ally missed the point,” Carl­son said. “I don’t have a hid­den agenda or want some­one to move from po­si­tion A to po­si­tion B. I love re­li­gion, but not as some­thing I’m try­ing to sell.”

Lest any­one per­ceive as a quiet book fo­cused solely on the con­tem­pla­tive and monas­tic, rest as­sured that the mys­tery takes a spec­tac­u­lar twist. Lives are en­dan­gered, and the threat of the apoc­a­lypse hov­ers over a few of the char­ac­ters, putting oth­ers high in the moun­tains at risk. Carl­son’s knowl­edge of re­li­gion, fa­nati­cism, and vi­o­lence is put to good use in this part of the nar­ra­tive; it is easy to draw a par­al­lel be­tween how some peo­ple view the Pen­i­tentes — and use this ig­no­rance to fuel their fear of them — with how Mus­lims are per­ceived by those who con­fuse ter­ror­ism with a faith tra­di­tion.

“To iso­late and tar­get Mus­lims in gen­eral, like this Repub­li­can idea of hav­ing a re­li­gious test for im­mi­grants, is ex­actly what re­li­gious-ex­trem­ist groups like ISIS want,” the au­thor said. “It fits their hopes that Mus­lims will feel so iso­lated in the United States that they would ei­ther have to leave or they might as well do some­thing hor­ri­ble. They know that when­ever there is a ter­ror­ist act, Mus­lims will be ha­rassed and bul­lied. One thing I point out in my talks is that groups like ISIS re­cruit over the in­ter­net, and the first thing they de­mand is that the young per­son cut off all con­tact with their mosque. The mosques in this coun­try are 99-per­cent against this kind of vi­o­lence. They do not iden­tify ter­ror­ism as an ex­pres­sion of Is­lam — it’s a dis­tor­tion of their faith.”

In the end, it comes down to re­mem­ber­ing that ev­ery­one ob­serves God in his or her own way, Carl­son said, and to live to­gether peace­fully is to re­spect this an­cient need that hu­mans have to con­nect to some­thing larger than them­selves. “When­ever I visit monas­ter­ies and see the vows that monks and nuns have taken that I have not taken, I get it. I can feel the power of it in their lives, the in­flu­ence. I don’t prac­tice my faith that way, but I leave with a deep sense of com­mit­ment to mak­ing some­thing that is of­ten triv­i­al­ized in our cul­ture any­thing but triv­ial.”

“En­ter by the Nar­row Gate” was pub­lished by Cof­fee­town Press in Novem­ber 2016.

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