This is a Fascinating World

I’m reading a book that makes me giggle, tear up, or draw smiley faces at seemingly every other page: Gilead, by Marylinne Robinson. A Pulitzer Prize winner, it is a long letter written by an elderly father to his six-year old son, to be read when he grows up.

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It is a novel that conveys grace, simplicity, holiness. It is at once so modest, yet so moving. Take, for instance, this passage:

I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle… You’re a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and mannered. All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.[1]

A novel fueled by domestic memories and a saintly narrator – that is so difficult to achieve as a writer. Evil sells, as I’ve written before. Throw in some murders, violence and greed: there’s an easy novel. But how refreshing is to read a novel that mentions war – the narrator’s grandfather loses one of his eyes during the American Civil War – to have him say as his first words to his son, “I am confident that I will find great blessing in it.” Graceful writing is for the courageous few.

Or take this other example. The narrator is an elderly reverend who includes reminiscences also about his ministry career.

When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the ‘I’ whose predicate can be ‘love’ or ‘fear’ or ‘want,’ and whose object can be ‘someone’ or ‘nothing’ and it won’t really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around ‘I’ like a flame on a wick… To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned.[2]

As a pastor myself, I’ve often let myself be distracted by the beauty of the people that come to see me. There’s the guy who lost his girlfriend and can’t see a ray of light in the sky; the person who is just starting to discover God and in a moment of passion says, “Man, Jesus is…” and then comes a word not fit for print. Some time ago a couple came to ask if I could marry them. I suggested some steps to first put their situation right with God and before the law–but they went ahead anyway and got married on Facebook. Isn’t that adorable? I’m still laughing at that one. You see a group of people so sweet in their singularity, and I feel such a gladness to be in their presence, that sometimes I say a quick prayer just to thank God for being alive.

“This is an interesting planet,” writes the narrator in Gilead. “It deserves all the attention you can give it.”[3]

Yup, it surely does.

René Breuel

[1] Marylinne Robinson, Gilead (New York: Picador, 2004), 52-53.

[2] Ibid., 44-45.

[3] Ibid., 28.

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One response to “This is a Fascinating World

  1. Pingback: A Zest for Life | Wondering Fair·

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