#44: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
This is a really different book. First, let me say that I loved it! BUT, if you are a person who enjoys books driven by action and plot, this book is probably not your cup of tea.
This is the story of John Ames, a 76 year old preacher, who has found out that he is dying of a heart ailment. He has a 7 year old son, and decides to write a diary, or a memoir, for his son to read when he is older and John is gone.
John Ames lives, and except for seminary years has always lived, in Gilead, Iowa, a tiny town on the edge of nowhere. His father and grandfather were preachers as well, and his best friend, "old Boughton", is a Presbyterian minister in the little town.
Ames' grandfather was an abolitionist preacher, who came to the area when Kansas was being admitted to the Union, before the Civil War. He had had a vision of Christ in chains, which he took to mean that he was to keep the evil of slavery out of the new state.
Ames' father was a dedicated pacifist, much to the disappointment of the fiery grandfather. The tension remained between them always. And that's only one of the episodes that the book deals with.
The story is done almost in diary form, so you get pieces of each story at a time. You start to think one thing, then get further information and revise a little. Then a little more. Then a little more. No villains--only fallible people.
So the book is a luminous rumination on life and death, fathers and sons, earthly life and heavenly life, family and solitude. It is worth your time.
Here's a little excerpt:
You and Tobias are hopping around in the sprinkler. The sprinkler is a magnificent invention because it exposes raindrops to sunshine. That does occur in nature, but it is rare. When I was in seminary I used to go sometimes to watch the Baptists down at the river. It was something to see the preacher lifting the one who was being baptized up out of the water and the water pouring off the garments and the hair. It did look like a birth or a resurrection. For us the water just heightens the touch of the pastor's hand on the sweet bones of the head, sort of like making an electrical connection. I've always loved to baptize people, though I have sometimes wished there were more shimmer and splash involved in the way we go about it. Well, but you two are dancing around in your iridescent little downpour, whooping and stomping as sane poeple ought to do when they encounter a thing so miraculous as water.
Next up? When I Lay My Isaac Down: Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances by Carol Kent. (And I continue to read The Spirit of the Liturgy.)