Back in December, during the church season of Advent, a hymn verse caught my attention, and it hasn’t let me go. “With what rapture, with what rapture, gaze we on those glorious wounds.” The song is about Jesus, and how, even after he was resurrected from the dead, he still showed the marks of his suffering.
At the time, I was reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, and I couldn’t help but think of the highly erotic scene near the beginning of the book where Claire examines all Jamie’s scars, and from the way she touches him, we all know she is going to fall hard, even though she is still in love with her husband who is alive two hundred years later.
Yes, that’s right, I was thinking about that highly erotic scene in church, while singing one of my favorite hymns. And I’m quite sure Jesus didn’t mind a bit—he understood perfectly well what scars mean to us. That’s why he showed his to his doubting disciple Thomas after he was resurrected.
Inside or out, every human being has scars. Some of my personal favorites are two banged-up knees, my c-section scar, and a barely visible mark on my hand when, as a toddler, I bumped into my dad’s lit cigarette. He felt terrible, and that little incident inspired him to quit smoking.
Scars have stories. The silver lines across Jamie Fraser’s muscular back catalog the narrative of a sacrifice he made for his sister, and his willfulness in resisting the cruelty of the bad guy. And instantly, all the readers are in love and just waiting for Claire to admit she is too.
Aeron, Keeper of Wrath, from Gena Showalter’s Darkest Passion scarred up his own face in order to render himself unlovable, after his heart was broken. In a novella I absolutely adore called Splinter, Remittance Girl has a seriously scarred character—I won’t spoil a drop of that story for you by explaining more, but if you’re not afraid to consider how pain, religious devotion, and ecstasy go together, read it!
Scars can be signs of strength, or courage, or just plain-old abuse. They aren’t all glorious, for sure. We can heal, but they don’t go away. We carry around the marks of our suffering, and showing them to others is a profound intimacy.
Maybe thats why they are so effective, when it comes to characterization. When we see the hero or heroine’s scars, it’s a window into their past. Maybe their emotional wounds play out in a gesture, or display on their face in an a moment of conflict. But a physical scar is a place where flesh was once broken, where the barrier of skin that keeps our insides inside split open. When one human being touches another’s scars, it seems possible for the boundaries between them to dissolve—like the very best sex.
Our fragile bodies break, and bleed, and make love, and die. It is their frailty that makes them beautiful, and sometimes their wounds that make them glorious. I am a sucker for that moment in the book where the wound is laid bare to the reader, and it takes your breath away and makes you fall in love, just like Claire, just like Thomas.
Who are your favorite wounded heroes?