I grew up in a Christian home. A good Scandinavian Lutheran home, to be exact. It wasn’t a strict, conservative home by any stretch of the imagination. My mom sees many shades of gray, she believes there are a lot of explanations for things that happen in this world, but she finds comfort in the Church. And I, in my young adult life, fell very heavily into the more conservative, evangelical world and went on to get a Masters in Christian Studies.
But in the last decade, I’ve changed much of what I think in regards to religion and beliefs. But I still find comfort in Christian stories, in the things I grew up with, even if I don’t fully believe it all and I’m not dogmatic about it at all. And there are certain writers that I’ve read over the past years that are writing from a Christian point of view, and they tell great stories. They aren’t dogmatic, they aren’t pushy, they talk lovingly of grace, hope, belief.
I just finished Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and it is one of those beautifully written books. Her writing reminds me of one of my all time favorite authors, Wendell Berry. As I read Gilead I was reminded of thoughtful, thinking faith. I was reminded of all the good things I find in many of the people I’ve known in my life. Not all Christians are what we see in the media, especially in an election year.
John Ames is writing to his young son, as he is dying. He married again as an older man and had a child very late in life. And as he writes about life, the town they live in, grace, hope, faith, and much more, you see a picture of a man who is pondering his life as it is ending.
I read the kindle version of the book, graciously loaned by my local public library, highlights below.
There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn’t really expect to find it, either. (loc 55)
Then I realized that what I saw was a full moon rising just as the sun was going down. Each of them was standing on its edge, with the most wonderful light between them. It seemed as if you could touch it, as if there were palpable currents of light passing back and forth, or as if there were great taut skeins of light suspended between them. (loc 168)
There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that. (loc 286)
I do try to write the way I think. But of course that all changes as soon as I put it into words. (loc 363)
But I believe we knew also that his eccentricities were thwarted passion, that he was full of anger, at us not least, and that the tremors of his old age were in some part the tremors of pent grief. (loc 436)
I get much more respect than I deserve. This seems harmless enough in most cases. People want to respect the pastor and I’m not going to interfere with that. But I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books. This is not a new insight, but the truth of it is something you have to experience to fully grasp. (loc 503)
I was struck by the way the light felt that afternoon. I have paid a good deal of attention to light, but no one could begin to do it justice. There was the feeling of a weight of light—press—ing the damp out of the grass and pressing the smell of sour old sap out of the boards on the porch floor and burdening even the trees a little as a late snow would do. It was the kind of light that rests on your shoulders the way a cat lies on your lap. So familiar. (loc 669)
I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try. (loc 741)
So often I have known, right there in the pulpit, even as I read the words, how far they fell short of any hopes I had for them. And they were the major work of my life, from a certain point of view. I have to wonder how I have lived with that. (loc 907)
Transgression. That is legalism. There is never just one transgression. There is a wound in the flesh of human life that scars when it heals and often enough seems never to heal at all. (loc 1622)
So that is the honoring of the child. You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone. Your existence is a delight to us. (loc 1815)
…[A]t the root of real honor is always the sense of the sacredness of the person who is its object. (loc 1858)
It is a strange thing, after all, to be able to return to a moment, when it can hardly be said to have any reality at all, even in its passing. A moment is such a slight thing, I mean, that its abiding is a most gracious reprieve. (loc 2172)
…[H]ave thought about that very often—how the times change, and the same words that carry a good many people into the howling wilderness in one generation are irksome or meaningless in the next. (loc 2375)
I have had a certain amount of experience with skepticism and the conversation it generates, and there is an inevitable futility in it. It is even destructive. (loc 2378)
He just assumed that his side of the question was “the truth” and only cowardice could be preventing me from admitting as much. (loc 2392)
I believe I am beginning to see where the grace is for me in this. I have prayed considerably, and I have slept awhile, too, and I feel I am reaching some clarity. (loc 2711)
I might seem to be comparing something great and holy with a minor and ordinary thing, that is, love of God with mortal love. But I just don’t see them as separate things at all. (loc 2747)
If we can be divinely fed with a morsel and divinely blessed with a touch, then the terrible pleasure we find in a particular face can certainly instruct us in the nature of the very grandest love. (loc 2749)
In my experience of it, age has a tendency to make one’s sense of oneself harder to maintain, less robust in some ways. (loc 2827)
On the other hand, he is a man about whom you may never hear one good word, and I just don’t know another way to let you see the beauty there is in him. (loc 3108)
There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. (loc 3193)
…[G]race is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways. (loc 3213)
There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient. (loc 3259)
It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. (loc 3283)
There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us. (loc 3291)
…[T]hink there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave—that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm. (loc 3295)
What have I to leave you but the ruins of old courage, and the lore of old gallantry and hope? Well, as I have said, it is all an ember now, and the good Lord will surely someday breathe it into flame again. (loc 3298)
This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more. But hope deferred is still hope. (loc 3306)