My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.
In Gilead, the act of writing is similar to the act of defining one’s faith. Author Marilynne Robinson’s protagonist, a pastor named John Ames, writes down his experiences as he remembers them, and tries to intuit what they signify. Later, he returns to the page: his previous interpretation was all wrong. Then, he returns again: it turns out he got things wrong the second time, too. Then further events occur, changing his understanding of what actually happened the first time, and requiring its own revisions later on down the line.
This is the process of faith, and also of understanding, moving the truth back and forth over the surface of your life, like using a knife to spread a dollop of paint across the canvas: first one way, then another, smoothing out the rough parts, gradually smoothing over the rough and raised parts of the canvas. Then you get more paint.
There’s a lot more to Robinson’s novel, much of which will probably be more clear upon revisiting it (which I wanted to do nearly as soon as it was finished). There’s the puzzling existence of the town itself: built essentially as a way for Jayhawkers to assist escaped slaves in the mid-19th century. The organizing entity behind that effort was the church, and its relative lack of purpose in the 1950s, when the story is set, shows how the church seems to find itself at a crossroads, lacking the militancy for just causes that it possessed a century before, and threatening to calcify. John is clearly torn between the militancy of his grandfather, which seems impracticable in the modern age, and the pacifism and passivity of his father, which seems like it might spell the end of the church.
What I like about the book is how it understands that these issues have no entirely satisfying answers, and suggests that the process of understanding the true answer may be identical to the process of understanding God in a new way. At least, that’s what I think it means–I will probably be compelled to revise my understanding later.
Interested in reading this? I’m an Amazon Affiliate, meaning that I link products from Amazon, and if anyone clicks those links to buy the product, they pay me a commission. If you’re interested in purchasing Gilead, just follow the link below: