“This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.”
Last week was a hard week for many of us. Facing the reality of Trump’s inauguration, I needed a book that was beautiful, calming, and familiar. As big as my stack of “to be read” books was, I needed something that I knew would give me temporary comfort. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson was really my only option. A favorite of President Obama’s (and a Pulitzer winner), Gilead tells the story of Rev. John Ames, an Iowa pastor in his seventies who is documenting everything he wants his young son to know about the world. With his advanced age and failing health, he worries that he won’t be there to see his boy grow into a man, so he writes down the story of three generations of Ames men and everything he’s learned about his time on this planet.
If you’re worried that this all sounds a bit dry, it’s not. Written in an unconventional, free-flowing style, Robinson’s way with words is striking, complex, and heartrendingly beautiful. My relationship to the Christian faith is a complicated one, and while the tenets of Calvinism color her worldview, this is not the traditional “Christian fiction” and all of the hamfisted Christ metaphors that that entails. The kind of Christianity that Robinson espouses is one of compassion, introspection, and care for others. Ames writes to his son “Love is holy because it is like grace–the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.” With a vocal faction of Christianity spewing the bile that Donald Trump has embodied, it is important to remember that that is not all that there is.
This is the third time that I’ve read Gilead, and I am always struck by the depth of feeling on every single page. As Ames struggles with facing his own death before he’s ready to leave this green earth (and especially his son and wife), we are reminded of the beauty of the every day. Donald Trump is seeking to turn brother against brother, fomenting a nation of hate and fear. Gilead is a simple plea to do the opposite.