Book Review by The Peaceable Table

By Gracia Fay Ellwood
March 2014

Book Review:  Suffering Eyes:  A Chronicle of Awakening
Franceen Neufeld, Suffering Eyes:  A Chronicle of Awakening. Perth, Canada:  Purposeful Publishing, 2013.  Paperback, 188 pp. $20.00 suggested donation.

This book should perhaps bear a notice such as “Handle With Care;” it carries explosive emotional power.  The author, who was featured in a 2010 issue of The Peaceable Table’s “My Pilgrimage” column (See Neufeld), tells the story of her passage from the moral sleep regarding animals in which most people live, to a full awareness of, and participation in, their sufferings. In their multitudinous forms those sufferings come to painful life in her pages. I will highlight the crucial narrative sections.

Part I, “Apologia,” and Part II, “Looking Back,” tell us where she comes from.  Her mother, Marie Fauteux (to whom the book is dedicated), was one of the rare people, in an even more oblivious time, who truly saw the animals around her.  She stopped eating them, and with her tears openly shared their griefs.  But, as Neufeld recounts with deep regret, she and the rest of the family were not with the mother; they laughed, though not cruelly, at her “sentimentality.”  There were sunshine and happy times with animal companions (including horses) in that childhood too, but the author could not stay in that place forever.

Part III, “Awakening”:  She recounts the scenes she encountered during a sabbatical in Europe that finally caused her blinders to fall, and awareness of what was really going on to reach her heart.  Birds, their dead bodies intact, hanging in the marché.  Whole grocery aisles devoted to horse flesh.  A delivery truck, its back doors open, with naked, violated bodies hanging inside. A truck at a rest stop full of baby pigs, crying with baby cries.  After these sights, she could no longer return to a safe world of her own: the animals were there, and she was among them.

In Part IV, “Witness,” Franceen Neufeld tells of her anguished struggles to come to terms with what she now knows, and how she must witness to it.  Almost choked by anguish, she feels implicated in the unspeakable things human beings are doing to these innocents.  She is like one of the animals drowning in the Great Flood as the Ark passes her by.  She feels her human tears and screams are futile to change anything; the words describing these deeds that she types are meaningless and cannot save anyone.  And God is silent.

In “Ashes,” Part V, the author searches for hope and healing amid the charnel-house that the world has become for her. At the edges of a dream, she sees Divine eyes seeking hers, “God’s justice outraged and God’s mercy grieved by the blood of innocents soaking the whole earth.  Suffering Love at the heart of this broken universe.”  When she wakes, hope slips through her fingers, but she clings to faith in that Love.

In the last section, “Roots and Branches,” the author comments insightfully and provides additional information on the sections of her own odyssey and on individual pieces in the treasure trove of eloquent quotations in the section before it, “Other Voices.”  The tone is reflective.

Suffering Eyes
offers a rich compendium of accounts of animal anguish at human hands, whether for the sake of food and other commodities, knowledge, profit, or sheer viciousness.  As such, animal activists will find the book of immense value as a resource.  Its vivid, unsparing examples will help them illustrate their concerns to a public that would often like to look the other way.
At the same time, the author’s extraordinary courage in gazing so long into hell paradoxically makes for a limitation as well as a strength in this important work.  “Human kind cannot bear very much reality,”  as T.S. Eliot reminded us, and readers of less heroic mould than the author may give way to the temptation to skip sections or put the book down largely unread.  But we may hope--expect?--that e’er long there will be another edition with a section entitled something like “Resurrection,” in which Friend Franceen describes an experience of emerging from her long initiatory Dark Night into the full, blazing day of transformation and empowering new life for all those she touches. 

[Editor's Note: In May 2014, Franceen Neufeld spoke on Joy at Wishing Well Sanctuary, exploring the relationship between love, grief and joy in the awakened life.]

(See also Book Review by Robin Lamont)
(See also Book Review by Animal Ministry Institute)