GREAT READINGS, MOVING WRITING AND MOMENTOUS BOOKS
The other day on facebook I mentioned hunger for a great read – everything in our house and library had been digested and my silent request for more good books on my Amazon wish list (or even a subscription to a couple of periodicals to keep us up-to-date – like Time or Newsweek for general splattering and Christianity Today and World and Discipleship for a Christian focus) plus the knowledge that now we have Kindle in Brazilian Portuguese – all made me covet sincerely. God did not grant an answer according to my dubious heart (Can one covet sincerely, like “sin with an authentic desire to possess thy neighbors’ books or mags or disposable income for literary purchases”? Like one can “sincerely be wrong and set in ways of error...”) – He is, after all, sovereign over all the earth as well as over my own selfish desires. Last year a dear aunt sent me a bag of good books which kept me busy for a few months. And this Christmas, my eldest son gave me a riveting Kingsolver book for Christmas.
Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. Each book she spins is unique – a totally different story set in a different ambiance – my first experience with Kingsolver was the
fifties and sixties in Poisonwood Bible. Then
I moved to the world of art and communist politics with Frieda Kahlo and an
American hero and expatriate in Congo
of pre World War II with The Lacuna. The
Beanwood Trees explored life, responsible and abandoned childhood of Native
Americans of the Southwest, and now Flight
Behavior weaves a beautiful tale of a woman of Appalachia whose greatest
dream was to flee from everything her miserable life meant – with an incredible
mountaintop experience which made her return to face and enrich her life as
well as the lives of those around her. All Kingsolver’s books deal with
spiritual emptiness and religious crises as well as earthy biological and
sociological situations. The mountaintop experience is not conversion or even
acceptance of God’s will – Kingsolver writes with the eyes of a scientist who
has serious doubts about established religion, though she is immersed in
religious language and lore. You can’t put a Kingsolver book down lightly –
though she titles it “flight behavior”, the behavior of flight takes on many
meanings and transfixes one’s vision of common country life and scientific
In an entirely different vein are Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s historical novels like The Illuminator and the Mercy Seller, which brought to life and got me hooked on pre-Reformation situations in England and Bohemia (am still waiting to get The Heretic’s Wife which will transpose me to yet another spot and Reformer). Late Middle Ages and early Reformation days com alive in Vantrease’s well-woven, vero simile tales that read as I wish I could write my next novel – with historicity and keen theological philosophy – without committing grave errors in Biblical or historical facts.
Just watched a TV special on new writers on the bestsellers rack and can’t believe E. L. James’s Shades of Gray (fifty and other shades) gained such tremendous following. Guess part of the postmodern scene is “steamy like you’d never admit to reading in polite society a few years back”.
Back to the idea of writing, I guess I enjoy reads like Lya Luft’s, Isabel Allende’s and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ – that’s the Latin American writer crying out within me. Can’t forget Americans like Alice Walker and Willa Cather or Pat Conroy and Louisa May Alcott or Hawthorne and Hemingway and Scott Fitgerald. Or Brits like P.D. James and Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie – so many diverse and divergent good writers I couldn’t begin to list what touched me – and that without the divine element of Christian writing.
I dream of writing good reads that portray a Christian worldview regarding tarnished fallen humanity vis a vis exquisite, unmerited God-mercy. Do something like Jerry Jenkins did for premillenial Bible prophecy in the Left Behind saga – in a Biblically Reformed and Christ-centered story of love and redemption for today! Pretty hard task to fulfill – especially due to the fractures and fallenness of this unworthy writer with unruly yearnings and undisciplined writing life.
Why should fantastic stories such as Rowling’s Harry Potter et al or Stephanie Meyer’s Twighlight saga gain larger followings than C. S. Lewis or even Tolkien, who also wrote fantastic fantasies with eternal values? I admit I enjoyed Harry Potter and the idea of good witches outwitting the bad is attractive – but even Madeleine L’ Engle fell short of gaining the popularity of today’s neo-pagans. A few years ago a Christian story gained the bestseller status with The Shack, but besides its psychological soul-searching after a tragic murder and mixed and muddled theology of the Trinity to gain such a following, there wasn’t too much that stayed permanent. No one today is recommending it as “you’ve got to read this”. Which brings me to my motives in reading and writing, and my unrealistic yearnings.
The goal of writing great fiction that touches many readers for eternity is somewhat unrealistic because my own ideas of truth are often muddled by the reality of Romans 7:19-22, which, thank God, ends in “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” but has all the interim experience of “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and ma
me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched
woman I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”(NIV). Whether in
writing about life and death or living around writing and not saying what I
really mean, a lot that I know is good and have learned throughout life is
annulled by my human condition – precisely the condition that produces good
Then, my aim is also askew. In my life purpose, I declare that, like the phenomenal Christian Paul, this un-phenomenal woman’s goal is “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:10-12 NKJ). But in practice, I’m not that great about wanting to know Christ better. Maybe attracted to power (especially of words!), but “fellowship of his sufferings and conformity to his death” sound awfully masochistic! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24). I do subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith declaration of humankind’s principal aim in life: “Love God and love one’s neighbor” (as in Mark 30:31). And I discover that for all practical purposes, I’ll never be a great Christian writer – just an earthbound common, everyday Christian who reads, breathes, thinks, has doubts and epiphany-like joys, loves, sometimes despises, often is bewildered – and writes trying to keep in mind the Word that was made flesh as I flesh out words, sometimes of wisdom, more often of folly, always trying to read “what God hath wrought”.