Quote of the Day

Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. PHiLOSOPHY and LiFE blog

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.

I Gilead book coverwas leant this book and took some time reading it. It is beautiful and deeply moving. Click on the image or follow this link, to learn more about the story and the author (who I believe won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for this novel).

It seems to me that, among other things, this story is a reworking of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-end). The first person voice, John Ames, struggles with whether he can be the good father to his godson and namesake, John Ames Boughton. He struggles with his antipathy and his jealousy. Grace abounds.

What stikes me is that John Ames represents both the father and the older son in Luke parable. As the 'father', he comes to understand the prodigal's waywardness and inability to be at home, he grows in compassion and he becomes able to bless his son, despite the son's continued atheism.

As the 'elder son' he is the one in his family who never leaves home, who is faithful to his calling and to the town of Gilead. He struggles with his jealousy that this prodigal has the love and acceptance of his (genetic) father (old Boughton) and of his own wife. For some reason he cannot fathom, that love for the prodigal is greater, or perhaps more overt, than the love for the stay-at-home son. He fears that the prodigal will take up with his wife when he is dead - will claim his inheritance.

John Ames receives healing in both these aspects of his 'sin-sick soul' and dies whole.

It is an amazing book of an old man reviewing his life, struggling with great honesty with his demons, open-eyed to his faults and to his ways of self-deception, yet full of self-acceptance and love for the world he is about to leave.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Reasons not to pray: 1, 2, 3

Why is prayer so difficult - desired and avoided in equal measure? I think there are three key reasons:

  1. Prayer is the time when we stop everything else we are doing. Often the first thing that occurs is an awareness of pain in myself or others: the physical or emotional or global pain, which is an opportunity for our healing and the healing of the world. It is the way of the Cross. Boredom, restlessness, loneliness, emptiness, tiredness, simple physical pain, unresolved grief (is it ever fully resolved?), failure and unfulfilled longing & dreams. Being aware of being a body puts me in touch with my fragility and mortality.
  2. Being utter failures: by definition prayer is something we cannot do; it is something God does in us. We are utterly unable to 'make it happen'; we are utterly dependant on God. We become aware of dependence and disconnection.
  3. Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror (Duino Elegy no.1 by Rilke). God, the Universe, are so large and unimaginable and utterly other that we are filled with terror. This is akin to being plugged into the Total Perspective Vortex as described in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Each of these is destructive of what we fondly like to think of as our selves. They reveal our utter indigence, mutability, insignificance and dependence. Enjoy!

[Next in the series: Reasons not to pray: 4.]