Cruciform Press has done the church a service by publishing a very unusual little e-book, The Book of Mary: Diary of an Addict. The sequence of events by which the diaries of a single mother of one, aborter of at least four others, drug addict, and prostitute came to be published as a Christian book is a unique work of God’s providence. Anthony Zurlo, pastor-turned-editor of the The Book of Mary, found the two journals at the bottom of a box of miscellaneous items purchased at an estate sale. So moved was he by the hopelessness of a broken life that he transcribed the journals faithfully, adding biblical commentary along the way. I will cite only one of Mary’s journal entries below. All other quotations in this blog post are from the portions labeled “Commentary from the Editor.” I think it’s best you read the rest of Mary’s journal entries yourself.
Jan 24, 93
Going through another horror of a depression.
Another depression of horror.
Another horrific depression.
Another horror filled depression.
6 Reasons I Am Glad I Read The Book of Mary
- It not only teaches a sound theology of addiction, but it illustrates addiction honestly, painfully, with all its degrading and disgusting faces. This is not cosmetically-enhanced fiction.
- It reminded me why I need a Savior. My Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
- It stirred my heart with compassion toward those whose lives are dominated by one addiction after another (be prepared to be moved emotionally).
- It reminded me that there will always be threads of self-righteousness in the fabric of my mind and heart of which I must repent.
- It helped me become a more pitiful counselor (by archaic definition: full of pity) who is hopefully now better equipped to minister grace toward those who live in a pitiful state (by modern definition: deserving of pity).
- It reminded me of the truly desperate state of sinners who are without Jesus. I must take the gospel to them!
And The Book of Mary is a great tool; it is primarily an evangelistic book. Zurlo’s presentation of the gospel as the Good News shines brightly and beautifully against a very dark backdrop of Mary’s death-life. Who do you know who needs this real-life drama of God’s grace in Christ as the solution to sin’s hopelessness?
Important Theological Gleanings
My greatest appreciation for this book comes from the editor’s solid theology of addiction, something often lacking in counseling circles. Here are just a few theological convictions that shine forth and are worthy of your further consideration.
We are all addicts at heart, living on “a planet of addicts.” “[S]in is not so much something we do, it is something we are” (69). “For some, our particular addiction is ugly and unacceptable in the public eye. Seeing the pain of the world clearly, these people have been driven to desperate measures. But we are all in essentially the same situation. We are a planet of addicts who realize that despite all the undeniable beauty and wonder around us, there is something fundamentally broken about this existence. Here, nothing can ever be completely right, because we face a future where only death is certain. A future like that inevitably bleeds back into the present the unmistakable essence of hopelessness…. to one degree or another we all have something we chase after and hope in, but in the end it will only make us more miserable. Make no mistake—the best among us fail to live perfectly within our principles, however high and wonderful or even true those principles might be. Whatever we pursue most in this earth cannot satisfy us completely” (35). As addicts, we are also idolaters: “It is insanity to love what he has made more than I love him” (105).
Addicts display what is wrong with this world, thus calling attention to the universal need for redemption. “Call it honesty, or maybe something else, but what it comes down to is that these are people who can’t suppress the truth, who can’t shut out the pain that comes from not having a solid hope. They are unable to escape the plain truth about our world, and they don’t know how to face that awful reality—at least, not in any way that is socially acceptable. Many of these become drug addicts. They may become addicted to one drug, and then detox and get off it, but they end up getting re-addicted to that drug or another one. What makes them addicts is not so much a physiological need for cocaine or pills: they are addicts because they live to get high. And they live to get high because they see the world as it really is; they have no hope, so they live just for the now….In her honesty, the addict needs strong medicine to hide from the pain. So she finds a behavior that gives a strong and immediate payoff, a response that helps her cope with or forget about or escape from the world as it really is” (24-25).
Sin’s price tag is always unexpectedly high. “Addictions are strange things. The addict is in love with what she has found. For Mary it seems to be an ever-changing mix of drugs and men. She cherishes these experiences. Her whole life is bent around getting more, maybe at any cost. But we also see journal entries that reveal the other side of addiction, and we realize that when an addict gets what she wants, she also gets something she does not want” (34).
Addictions bind and blind. “So we read Mary’s journal and we think, How sad, how horrible. Here is this poor woman, wasting so much of her life on something that brings her pain after pain. She is slowly killing herself. Our hearts break as we read. We want to plead with her to wake up, to see the truth of what she is doing before it is too late. We want to weep for her and her daughter. We want to rescue her from what we can plainly see is so bad for her. So we may overlook the ways in which her life is strikingly like our own lives…..One of the built-in ironies of this world that seems so cursed and broken is that we are usually the last ones to be able to name and recognize our own addictions and understand the consequences” (36).
With all sin, no matter its name, there is a point of no return. There is a point at which sin’s death-spiral is irreversible. “It breaks my heart to say this, but we see at this point in Mary’s journals that she is on a fast track to oblivion. She is headed quickly and tragically for a final destination that is the worst possible thing that could happen to a human being. In her prolonged and daily rejection of God’s offer to drink from his fountain of living water, she is heading for the day when God will eventually let her have what she wants. He will allow her to be severed from him and his goodness, irreparably and unchangeably and forever.”
Our present hope is rooted in a future good. If a person has no hope anchored in truth about the future he or she will have no hope for today: “As long as you know tomorrow’s pain is coming, today will not hold the joy you were meant to have” (38). “We need to see something here. If you and I cannot locate in the future a certain good that bleeds hope back into the present, a sure and certain hope that is solid and tangible and real, then we differ from Mary only in the details—only in the fact that our predicament is perhaps a little less obvious than hers” (104).
Go to Cruciform’s website to get the e-book or read an excerpt. Pay attention to the publisher’s “fair warning” about rough language in the diary entries. Also, since the book is only available in e-book form at this time, please let them know by a quick vote if you would like to see it printed in hard copy form as well.