A new series on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence had me choosing a secular novel that had taught me something spiritual. My problem was that for BBC Book Week about a year ago I had chosen Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma and felt I could go there again. I did make mention of two other Coupland books I often quote, Life After God and Hey Nostradamus but for this little reflection I chose Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.
That was cheating a little. Gilead is a novel that lives in the secular world but in many regards a spiritual book. Robinson could be described as a Protestant, almost Calvinist version of the Catholic Graham Green or Flannery O’Connor where faith is at the centre of what they do.
I have reviewed the book before so let me draw out what I was trying to share on this morning’s show.
Marilynne Robinson has a wonderful way to bring out the wonder of the world and the mystery of the human being: -
“This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.”
“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see”
In Gilead, Robinson is particularly articulate about the Christian doctrine of grace: -
''Grace as a sort of ecstatic fire that takes things down to essentials.’"
“Grace has a grand laughter in it.”
Where Gilead really punched home to me was where that idea of grace impacts the preciousness of humanity. For a book set in a small town in North America how powerfully it speaks into our Northern Irish divisions.
“It seems to me people tend to forget that we are to love our enemies, not to satisfy some standard of righteousness but because God their Father loves them.”
For Robinson, and indeed at the heart of the creation theology of humanity, the enemy is a mystery made in God’s image. To ponder, even more on this Easter week, is that if Jesus died for humanity then the outworking of that theology is that we need treat our enemies as such: -
“The image of the Lord in anyone is much more than reason enough to love him and that the Lord stands waiting to take our enemies sins upon himself. So it a rejection of the reality of grace to hold our enemy at fault.”
And that is all enough to ponder on any five minutes of Sunday morning radio.