Monday, March 28, 2016

Love, Forgiveness, and All of Creation: Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Kansas Dad read this book first and suggested I read it, years ago. It's my own fault I waited so long.

The narrator of Gilead is a minister, John Ames, who begins writing as a journal, a letter to his young son. Suffering from heart disease and advanced age, Ames realizes he will soon die and desires to share his thoughts and dreams with his son who will read them when he is grown.

In the course of his writing, Ames describes the travails of bloody Kansas and their tragic effects on his own family. He explores the
dismal remants of sin in our lives and the transforming power of understanding and forgiveness. He grapples with his own weaknesses and sins, turning repeatedly to prayer and contemplation. He revels in the inexplicable and extraordinary beauty of creation, most especially the treasured existence of his only living son.
I'd never have believed I'd see a wife of mine doting on a child of mine. It still amazes me every time I think of it. I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.
Pages and pages of my commonplace book are now full of the words of Robinson's Gilead.

Being a minister facing imminent death, Ames writes often of that hazy division between death and life everlasting.
While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been, in the strength of my youth, with dear ones beside me. You read the dreams of an anxious, fuddled old man, and I live in a light better than any dream of mine--not waiting for you, though, because I want your dear perishable self to live long and to love this poor miserable world, which I somehow cannot imagine not missing bitterly...
He reflects on his past sermons, on comforting the dying and those left behind. He records conversations on predestination and eternal damnation, repentance and forgiveness.
Let me say first of all that the grace of God is sufficient to any transgression, and that to judge is wrong, the origin and essence of much error and cruelty.
Ames speaks often of watching his son just being young and marveling at his childish perfection. Those words rang with the beauty of my own days now. Days when I can watch my children running around the house with the dog, hair blowing, mouths open, laughter caught by the wind and wafting into the house.
You come in reeking of evening air, with your eyes bright and your cheeks and fingers pink and cold, too beautiful in the candlelight for my old eyes.
Later in the same paragraph, he writes:
There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
This is a book of contemplation, considering the reasons for life itself and how we can immerse ourselves in it and in our relationships.
Love is holy because it is like grace--the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.
Like Hannah Coulter, I was tempted to turn back to the beginning and read it all over again.

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