A Brutal Truth

NOV / DEC 2017: BY JESSICA SANTULLI

Life in the 1700s Scottish highlands is no easy walk in the park.  Just ask Claire Randall, protagonist of the Starz original series, Outlander, now in its third season.  She journeyed there from 1945: an easier, calmer time period, that offered fine amenities, like soap.  World War II had just ended, and she was looking forward to a peaceful life with her husband, a reprieve from the horrors of being a British combat nurse.  While on holiday in Inverness, Scotland, Claire touches an ancient stone and somehow transports back in time to the year 1743.  The clan MacKenzie take her to Castle Leoch, but kept her under careful watch for fear she might be a spy.  The Scottish Jacobites war against the English, fighting for Catholic Stuart King James II to assume the throne.  Claire’s seemingly miraculous power to heal soon amazes the clan.  She saves lives, but draws suspicion from many, including the local parish priest Father Bain.  Violence abounds, but so does superstition.  In 1743, religion—though practiced differently than today—assumes a central role in daily life.

Everyone is religious in the highlands: crossing themselves whenever someone dies, ready to believe in miracles and witches. Prayer and sacrifice play a vital part in the characters’ lives. In the midst of violence, there are many opportunities for sacrifice. Clan warriors are loyal to one another, ready to die for family and country. Few show Claire any form of Christian hospitality though. Even though she can heal, she is still a “Sassenach” (Gaelic for “Outlander”), an Englishwoman with no believable explanation for showing up in Scottish lands.  Castle Leoch’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fitz, sacrifices her reputation to welcome Claire and include her in castle gatherings.  Geillis Duncan, a local woman believed to be a witch, befriends Claire when no one else will.  Monks grant her sanctuary in their home, providing her with medical supplies and food.

But no one sacrifices himself more for Claire than Jamie Fraser, a young warrior who rebels against convention to protect Claire at every turn.  He stands up for her, sleeps outside her door so no drunkards bother her, and is even willing to marry her when she has to become a legal Scot to avoid prosecution from the British.  He’s an example of someone in whom the values of the Christian faith were sown and took root.  His father taught him to pray, even while walking towards a punishment of 100 lashes.  He’s a gentleman when his friends make lewd comments.  When Claire tells Jamie that she is from another time, he brings her back to the stone “portal,” allowing her to choose her fate.  He knows who to look to as an exemplar of the word “sacrifice.”

I heard a story of a priest giving the shortest and most profound homily on record.  He stood at the lectern, gazed upon the crucifix behind him, and wept.  After a few minutes, he returned to his seat, without speaking a word.

I never understood this reaction.  I knew in my mind that crucifixion was painful.  I knew God incarnate was abandoned, and He saved humanity through a selfless, gruesome human method of death.  But I did not know what crucifixion was in my heart.  Not until I watched Season 1, Episode 15 of Outlander, entitled “Wentworth Prison”

In this episode, Claire attempts to free Jamie from a British prison, only to be captured herself.  As Claire beseeches him not to give in, Jamie agrees to hand himself over to Black Jack Randall – sadistic torturer and ironic ancestor of Claire’s first husband from 1945—in exchange for setting Claire free.  Jamie is then subject to all kinds of heinous mental and physical tortures, including having his hand nailed to a table.  Jamie had a wife crying for him, hugging him until she was pried away and thrown out.  His clansmen huddled in the woods plotting an escape plan.  Even with known supporters, Jamie’s reaction to torture is one of miserable despondency, shame, and vile sickness.  We would expect nothing less than any human being in the same situation.  But surely Christ was above such agony, wasn’t he?

No.  Just as Jesus was fully God, he was also fully man.  He prayed to the Father to spare him the cross.  He felt in his heart the same feelings that Jamie did in this episode.  Yet, Christ had no one to grieve for him, save his mother and a few women whose job was to weep for the condemned.  Most of his dearest friends fled in fear.  I knew these facts before, but watching this episode of Outlander painted a dark truth in my mind.  Watching Jamie’s torture scenes opened my heart (and my tear ducts) to the crucifixion.  I became more emotionally bonded to it, more aware of Christ’s personage. Even the astounding film The Passion of the Christ did not have this effect on me.  When I look at the crucifix, I now feel pain and gratitude.

In modern America, middle class consumers don’t get too many depictions of the mutilating kind of suffering that Christ endured, at least not in real life.  We must look to the television whether it is news of Christians being executed abroad or fictional time travel programs.  Our society is not as outwardly violent as 18th century Scotland, so we will never face the pain Jamie endured.  But it is only through pain we can identify with the person of Christ.  I find it absurd that God revealed himself to me in a television drama called Outlander, but who am I to question his judgment?  As a result, I have made a renewed commitment to live out Peter’s advice: choosing not to fear suffering (on the small scale I experience it), but to welcome it, “for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering” (1 Peter 4:13 NLT).  And who else would I want to be partners with? 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Santulli is a graduate of Ramapo College with a passion for storytelling in all forms.  She works in a library where she is surrounded by her favorite things: books, films, music, and people.  On her free time she loves to run, hike, or just contemplate in nature.  She credits God for any talents or abilities she possesses and hopes He is glorified through her life.  Connect with her on her book blog, Librelephant.

 

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2 Replies to “A Brutal Truth”

  1. A timely blog as we have been catching up with series 1&2 of Outlander and just started on series three last night. Guess we English do not show up too well. The only time I’ve been called a Sassanach is by my future father-in-law who was Ukranian. Dark times; the Highlands of Scotland are so beautiful and so empty compared with the rest of the UK, the highland clearances another atrocity. We have been watching ‘Gunpowder’ – just as dark. In the first episode the Catholic woman about to be executed by the protestants walks to the scaffold with dignity refusing to deny her faith and says it is the happiest day of her life; how many of us could say that when we are about to be hung and then pressed to death under a door! How Christ’s simple words have given all denominations such strong faith, but Christianity has also been so twisted that men could kill and torture any they considered weren’t true believers.

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