Monday, February 2, 2009


I don't usually do individual posts on the books that I read. I usually just write a short paragraph review on my 2009 Reading List. But this book was just too good to relegate to a little paragraph on a sidebar link.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson was an excellent novel. It is written from the point of view of an elderly preacher, John Ames, who knows that his weak heart is not going to beat much longer.

I have passed some fairly difficult nights. Discomfort, a little trouble breathing. I have decided the two choices open to me are (1) to torment myself or (2) to trust the Lord. There is no earthly solution to the problems that confront me. But I can add to my problems, as I believe I have done, by dwelling on them. So no more of that.

He uses his remaining time to write a letter, a memoir, to his seven year old son. Knowing that he will never live to see his son grow up, he wants to impart as much of his gained wisdom and family history to his son.

Why do I love the thought of you old? That first twinge of arthitis in your knee is a thing I imagine with all the tenderness I felt when yous howed me your loose tooth. Be diligent in your prayers, old man. I hope you will have seen more of the world than I ever got around to seeing--only myself ot blame. And I hope you will have read some of my books. And God bless your eyes, and your hearing also, and of course your heart. I wish I could help you carry the weight of many years. But
the Lord will have that fatherly satisfaction.

Rev. Ames comes from a long line of preachers. Preachers that fought alongside abolishionists in Kansas and promoted peace in Iowa. Rev. Ames himself has led a long lonely life in service to his God and his congregation after the death of his young wife and child.

Only that which is apart from my own being is capable of being doubted by me. How then can I doubt of God, who is my being? To doubt of God is to doubt of myself.

Rev. Ames' May-December romance, subsequent marriage and child are his greatest blessings and the biggest surprises of his life. While he enjoys long slow summer days watching his son play and writing his lengthy transcript, Rev. Ames has some pressing matters to consider. The wayward son of his lifelong friend has suddenly returned to town and seems to be quite friendly with Mrs. Ames and their son. The reverend struggles with trusting that the prodigal boy has indeed changed and has become an honorable man and telling his wife about the young man's past and warning her away from him.

The story is very touching and sweet and the writing is really great. Interestingly, there are no chapter divisions. It is a letter, after all. And this isn't the type of letter where he tells his son how to shave and ask a girl out on a date, and things like that. This is the type of letter where a man tells his son about loving your enemy (for example)....

This is an important thing, which I have told many people, and my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, our first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate
or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.

I would recommend this book to everyone. It is a really beautiful look at life, even a life full of difficulties and impending death. I've heard that Robinson's other book, Housekeeping, is equally good. I can't wait to read it too.

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