“I don’t understand why people read fiction. It’s a waste of time; you don’t learn a thing.”
That was the opening of a conversation with a co-worker that happened over forty years ago. So many years back, but how could I, a passionate devotee of fiction, forget such a stupid comment?
My response, delivered with fervor, included three main points.
One, who says the only valid outcome of reading is education? I read for fun, for escape, to enter unknown worlds. To find joy, be scared, outraged or encouraged. There’s a universe of reasons for reading fiction.
Two, there is education involved in reading fiction! Historical fiction is a palatable way to learn about early times. Science fiction nudges me into considering the future. Contemporary novels put a spotlight on the world. The scenes and settings take me to places I’ve not been before. The lives of the characters teach me to understand relationships, both as I watch them succeed and observe them deconstruct.
Three, often the author, through her characters, says just what I need to read, or gives me just the words I want to say. Only a week ago, Lemony Snickett, in The Ersatz Elevator, provided me with the words I needed to conclude a sermon I was writing. Today it’s L.M. Montgomery, in Anne of Green Gables, who is helping me out with just the right illustration.
Anne and her girlfriends are acting out Tennyson’s Lancelot and Elaine. Anne, as Elaine, is lying on an old raft turned into a burial barge by draping a black shawl. Anne lies with closed eyes, hands clutching a blue iris folded over her breast. Her funeral bier is pushed off into the river. Anne floats dreamingly until the raft begins to leak. Anne, “horribly frightened,” later says to her Sunday School teacher, “I prayed, Mrs. Allan, most earnestly, but I didn’t shut my eyes to pray, for I knew the only way God could save me was to let the raft float close enough to one of the bridge piles for me to climb up on it … It was proper to pray, but I had to do my part by watching out and right well I knew it. I just said, ‘Dear God, please take the raft close to a pile, and I’ll do the rest.’”
I’ve been thinking about prayer, assurance – and gumption. Anne summed that up for me.
A friend of mine, who has a solid church background but little interest in the church today, finds blind faith a major fault in contemporary religion. She believes the message is too often “trust, and the Lord will provide.” I believe she sees too few Christian believers taking on the action, the gumption step of prayer.
We, as a nation, are coming out of an incredible maelstrom: overwhelming disease, political decay, and overt racism. In addition, for those of us concerned about the future of the United Methodist Church, the denomination stays mired in inactivity over the very future of our connection.
All of those problems are overwhelming, gigantic. What we need is a number of brave Davids, ready to take on our Goliath-sized issues.
The story of David and Goliath, told in 1 Samuel 17, is of a young sheepherder, certain of God’s presence, who slew a giant. He took his sling shot used to frighten off the wolves and five smooth stones from the riverbed and killed the Philistine giant with a single shot. Prayer, assurance – and gumption.
To me, the core of this legend is that David, a small, weak opponent, took on Goliath, a much bigger, stronger adversary, and prevailed. Don’t think this says we are called to conquer the biggest threats. Rather, it says that we, with our own limitations, are called to take on challenges that seem too large.
Over thirty years ago, my assignment in a spirituality class was to write a “breath prayer,” a short prayer that could be easily said in one inhale and exhale. The words I strung together were these: “Lord, help me through this time.”
I honed my prayer a number of times, choosing just the right combination of words. I don’t claim they are especially beautiful, but I do know they convey exactly what I wanted to say.
“Lord, help me …” Don’t take my task away from me, don’t excuse me from responsibility of action, help me. “Through” … be with me, stay with me throughout this challenge. “This time”… I ask for help only through this time. I don’t expect unending protection, unceasing immunity from whatever may happen next. Now, I need you now.
The most important word to me in this prayer is “help.” Help—to make it easier for someone to do something. Prayer, assurance, and action—with help.
In the past 30 years, I have inhaled/exhaled this prayer I created innumerable times, firm in the conviction “I can do all things through the one who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
Dear Reader, may you find the help you need to do what you are called to do.
Amory, loved these words of wisdom and prayer.
Thank you, Nancy, for reading and commenting. Hope all’s well with you.
Love it! Praying with eyes wide open.
Thanks for the comment, Carol. You sound just like Anne Shirley.
Beautiful! Thank you for this reflection and the wisdom of your words.
Thank you, Karen. You’re close to Anne’s world right now, aren’t you?
Thank you Amory
Thank you for reading. I love knowing my words are being considered.
This is stunningly relevant to our time in the life of GSUMC! Thanks you Amory!
Yes, believe it is. You can tell where my thoughts are currently. Thanks for the comments!
Love the Anne quote! We pray while looking to see how we might help. Thank you. (I’ve read and reread the Anne books since childhood.)
I don’t reread very many books (“so many books, so little time,” you know) but I did just revist Anne. Love her spunk. Thanks for the comment.
So delighted in this blog. A few years went to PEI and visited homes of Lucy Maud Montgomery AND Green Gables. Thanks for reviving memories -and prayers
Prince Edward Island is high on my “wish I could go to” list. Glad you had the experience! Thanks for the comment.
I love your perspective on prayer, Amory, as well as your comment regarding the value of historical fiction. For me it’s been a powerful source of learning through story. I’ve just finished The Paris Library (audiobook) and have great appreciation for the writing and the research.
I haven’t yet read The Paris Library. Your comment was just the push I needed. (I have a bias for any book with “library” or “book store” in the title.) Thanks for reading and for commenting.
Thank you Amory. I will be taking five smooth stones and my phone with your prayer when I start treatment on Monday. This is just what I needed.
I feel so honored that my words — and five smooth stones — will accompany you on Monday. Blessings on you, my friend.
You are a dear, Linda. Amory’s prayer will surely help. I’m sending you my prayers, too.
Thank you, Amory, as always. So often … too often! … prayer is down the list when faced with a problem. You’ve helped me move it up. And back to the comment about fiction: I believe the adage that it’s “truer” than non-fiction when it comes to understanding the world.
Thank you for the affirmation of fiction! An enthusiastic “yes” to that.
Amory, such a nice sermon. Thank you. And I agree with Dick about fiction, The greatest fiction seems to me to hold the greatest truths about minds and lives and world.
Fiction, great truth, yes! Thanks for commenting.
Lovely, Amory. I appreciate Anne of Green Gables (a childhood favorite!) keeping her eyes open so she could help herself off the raft when presented with the opportunity. Too often we want to close our eyes and wish for a rescue when we need to have our eyes wide open for the opportunities put before us. Gumption, grit, determination in the face of opportunity. Five smooth stones only work if we pick them up and put them in our slingshot and face whatever giant confronts us.
And on occasion, we must ask others for help. That also takes gumption–a silent prayer can be useful, but so too is one uttered out loud to those the good lord has surrounded us with. A cry for help feels vulnerable but is often the bravest act.
Thank you, my friend, for your wise words.
Thank you for these reflections. Your thoughts have added much to the piece!