This book had been recommended by a number of Ministers I respect, so I picked up a copy and read it over the Thanksgiving Holiday. It was one of two fiction books I have read this year. With reading so much for sermon preparation in mind, I tend to read more theological/religous oriented books. I can count on both hands the number of fiction books I have read since entering Ministry. (for the record, prior to ministry I was an avid fiction reader, particularly fond of the spy and science fiction genres. I am commited to reading more fiction in my life!!) So now when I do read fiction, I really want to make sure it is going to be something I will enjoy!!
Gilead is a pullitzer prize winner by Marilynne Robinson. Set in a rural Iowa it is a dieing Ministers reflection on his life and his vocation to be shared in later years with his young child. Although the book flows well it has a few slow patches. Just like our lives have a few slow patches. It is a thoughtful book. I think it would be more appreciated by ministers who might see a bit of themselves, or probably moreso a commonality of feelings about the vocation itself. I also think it is appealing to people who live in a rural environement. The protagonist says “And I knew what hope it was. It was just that kind the place was meant to encourage, that a harmless life could be lived here unmolested.” And yet, we know that no place provides a harmless life. And such a place creates a homogenous environment that is not safe for outsiders. Still we all seek at least metaphorically or a state of mind that is harmless. The story told the beauty of doing the small thing just for the sake of doing it and recognizing the beauty in that. It also touches on the balance of staying in a safe place and going beyond it. How sometimes we have to leave to become who we were meant to be, or to create a new vision for ourselves. Yet ultimately we have to find a place we can call home. The book did not sugarcoat ministry by any means. It showed the challenges, uncertainties and struggles of it. It also showed the wonder and fulfillment of ministry. After providing care to someone he’d known as a child the protagonist said “Id have gone through seminary and ordination an all the years interveing for that one moment” I think every minister can relate to that.
If you like action books, this one is not for you. But if you like to see a slice of life of rural minister it is a balm.