An old man hasn’t long to live. The doctor has told him his heart is weak and will not keep him long in this world. He has a young son, an only child of his old age, who will never really know his father. The boy is only 7. The old man is a pastor, a wise and gentle shepherd, in the wee midwestern town of Gilead, an insignificant town that all but God have long forgotten. He has chosen to stay here and invest his life in the people here and now is looking back on his life and the lives of the generations before him. He wants his young son to know who he is, who they were, what is this legacy he has inherited…
So the old man writes a journal to be given to his son when he is old enough to understand.
These journal entries comprise the entirety of the modern fiction work, Gilead(copyright 2004) by Marilynne Robinson. No dramatic suspense, no elaborate plot, just a quiet weaving of history and insight from the perspective of an old man who has walked with God and loved life and wants to capture its essence for his son to savor. The single line of ‘story’ in the book revolves around a difficult relationship with an old friend’s prodigal son, now returned to town…The old pastor must extend mercy and grace despite his misgivings and distrust of this young man but it will not come without a struggle. And this struggle becomes the meat of many of the journal entries. This advice to his son comes out in the process:
"This is an important thing, which I have told many people, and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person… is 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?… 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." (p.124,Gilead, HarperCollinsPubl.)
I loved that! I guess I am much drawn to grace lately as the missing ingredient in my life so much of the time. This exquisitely sweet book painted a picture of it for me, and of the beauty of forgiveness extended to the undeserving… What surprises me most about the book is that it is not a ‘Christian’ book by a ‘Christian’ publisher. But the author’s excellent writing has given it high acclaim with a secular publishing company. I love that!
So if you are looking to find some stillness, some grace, some quiet yet energizing escape, look up Marilynne Robinson’s book and cozy up for a read.
There is indeed a balm in Gilead…(Jer.8:22)