Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese


Before Christmas, the lady I nanny for gave me this book. She had read it in her book club and didn’t know if I would be interested in it, but said I was welcome to take it. She is so awesome, by the way. (When I think about what God has been doing in this season of my life, I realize He introduced me to her!) I have been blessed by her in many ways.

The back of the book offers this: a British surgeon and an Indian nun who work together at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia end up having twin boys. The mom dies in childbirth and the dad flees the scene. The twins, Marion and Shiva, end up being raised by the doctors around the hospital. I wanted to read it because I know hardly anything about Ethiopia, India, and medical stuff. I was really grateful to learn about medicine and hospitals through Verghese’s narration. He is a surgeon in real life, yet writes about the body and medical practices in such a literary way- in a way I can actually understand and appreciate. I got really wrapped up in the characters and his language- so descriptive, so rich. But is is over 600 pages long, and it took me 2 months to read.

Anyways, I started reading the book out loud to Ben while he drove us home to Colorado for Christmas. The twins are not even born for the first 150 pages! But I loved getting to know the parents’ history. Verghese really sets the scene of Addis Ababa. For one of the first times, I did not make any marks or underlines while reading. But I sticky-noted a few parts, and as I was talking to a friend, Matt Gregg, he phrased exactly what I felt. Those parts in writing that speak to you are wonderful. And he said sometimes you mark something because more needs to be said about it; it needs to be shared; it needs to be retold. You can’t just let it stop by sitting on the page forever- that’s the impact it had. So, I’d like to share one of those magic texts with you:

p.189- Matron, a nun and woman who runs the hospital, is talking with Mr. Harris, the American minister who financially supports Missing and surprisingly shows up to visit. In the scene Harris notices that the Bibles they have sent over are being used to paper the walls in huts and learns that they have more English speaking Bibles than English speaking people in the country. Harris offers accusations of paganism about church sites they want to fund which go against their “hope to bring knowledge of the Redeemer to those who do not have it.” He challenges Matron that the priesthood at the hospital is nearly illiterate and starts asking her if he holds to the Monophysite doctrine that Christ has divine nature, but not human. Here, Matron interrupts and it is this part I want to quote for you:

“‘When you look around Addis and see children barefoot and shivering in the rain, when you see the lepers begging for their next morsel, does any of that Monophysitic nonsense matter the least bit?’
Matron leaned her head on the windowpane.
‘God will judge us, Mr. Harris, by’- her voice broke as she thought of Sister Mary Joseph Praise- ‘by what we did to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings. I don’t think God cares what doctrine we embrace.’
…From her lips had come the kind of fundamental truth which, because of its simplicity, was unspoken in a church like Harris’s where internecine squabbling seemed to be the purpose for the committee’s existence, as well as a manifestation of faith. It was a small blessing that an ocean separated the doers like Matron from their patrons, because if they rubbed shoulders they’d make each other very uncomfortable.”

I wanted to share this part because it stuck with me. Being married to Ben is a convenient excuse to have theological conversations pretty often, which is really cool. But I read this and our general conclusion that arguing about theology is less productive than living like Jesus was confirmed. And yet I was still challenged to set my priorities straight when it comes to thinking about Christianity, and my faith specifically.

How do I live it out on a daily basis? Where am I too concerned about how things appear/are unraveling rather than why things are being carried out. Where do I see suffering? Seeing Les Mes over Christmas has reminded me of the beauty in this simple truth- “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Gosh, I love that. Everyone loves that, yeah?

In my substitute teaching, the Lord introduces me to some of His children every day. It’s really a cool opportunity. Strangers, yes, but children of God! I have really felt God teaching me to shine Jesus’ light to them by investing in them, even if only for a day. How can I relieve the suffering of other human beings? How did Jesus? I may not ever have a non profit organization or get to visit dark corners of the earth, but every day I am challenged to speak to others as if it is their birthday, as if they are the most important person in the room. I am challenged to listen instead of talk. To relate and join them in their journey of life to the best I can, with God’s strength and Jesus’ presence guiding me through it. Maybe God doesn’t care too much about the doctrines we embrace… interesting thought.

I felt that page needed to be shared past its placement in chapter 14. The book isn’t perfect, and there are quite a few parts that made me uncomfortable. But I learned, enjoyed, and appreciated through the process. If you are looking for an adventure, a few “wow- what an incredible way to communicate such an insight on life”, some exposure to vivid culture that differs from your own, I would recommend this ambitious and passionate story.

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