Gilead

March 12, 2010 at 9:39 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

            I recently finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel GileadGilead tells the story of John Ames, an aged and, presumably, dying Congregational pastor in the small Iowa town of Gilead.  He is the third generation pastor in this particular church, as his father and grandfather were also pastors there.  Getting used to the format of the novel was difficult for me, and I only persevered because of those, whose theological perspectives I like, who recommend it.  The entire novel is a random series of letters from Pastor Ames to his young son, whom he had very late in life, and whom he believes he won’t get to see grow up.  The disjoint nature of the letters, seemingly random topics and scattered thoughts, makes them hard to follow in the early going.  But as the book progresses, and more of John’s history comes to light, the story gets more interesting and more endearing.

            John Ames struggles with his own legacy and significance, especially his father’s and grandfather’s differences and interpersonal conflicts.  He wonders how to pass the good parts of that legacy on to his young son.  He ponders the practical implications of his reformed theology and wrestles with forgiveness, especially concerning his best friend’s son, who bears his name, but was a disgrace to his father.

            In spite of the fact that I found the book hard to get into, over all it was a great read.  Marilynne Robinson’s character faces real life struggles, and the reader is touched by his honesty in dealing with them.  She understands our depravity and our sometimes sense of emptiness in life, even while holding on to eternal truths.  In this sense, Gilead doesn’t read like a novel at all.  I found myself relating to John Ames more and more the closer I got to the end of the book.  I hope to read the sequel, the same story from his best friend’s perspective, sometime in the future.

            One great quote to give you the flavor of the book.  While thinking about the Ten Commandments, John Ames comments to his son:

There is a pattern in these Commandments of setting things apart so their holiness will be perceived.  Every day is holy, but the Sabbath is set apart so the holiness of time can be experienced.  Every human being is worthy of honor, but the conscious discipline of honor is learned from this setting apart of the mother and father, who usually labor and are heavy laden, and may be cranky or stingy or ignorant or overbearing.  Believe me, I know this can be a hard Commandment to keep.  But I believe also that the rewards of obedience are great, because at the root of real honor is always the sense of the sacredness of the person who is its object.  (p. 239)

            And one thought to which every preaching pastor can relate:  “It’s Sunday again.  When you do this sort of work, it seems to be Sunday all the time, or Saturday night.  You just finish preparing for one week and it’s already the next week.”  (p.232)

            If you start this book and have the patience to get through it, it will grow on you, and it will touch your heart.

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