read the amazing Pulitzer
Prize–winning book Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. It
took my breath away. Such beautiful, deep, thick, rich prose, like the
finest of dark French chocolate. One paragraph I read stuck me in the
heart. A dying man relays what he sees as he watches his young son
You are standing
the seat of your swing and sailing higher than you really ought to,
with that bold, planted stance of a sailor on a billowy sea. The ropes
are long and you are light and the ropes bow like cobwebs, laggardly,
indolent. Your shirt is red—it is your favorite shirt—and you fly into
the sunlight and pause there brilliantly for a second and then fall
back into the shadows again. You appear to be altogether happy.
Robinson’s use of simple
language coupled with the perfect positioning of words like laggardly
perfectly reveals the voice of the narrator—a wise, needy, wistful man
The more I hone the craft, the
more I realize it is simplicity that beckons readers. I used to write
flowery, pithy phrases—pretty things I’d admire on a mantle—but they
were stripped of vitality because I loved big words more than telling a
story straight. I’m thankful to read books like Gilead
or The Kite Runner that pack powerful emotional
experiences in spare, gut-wrenching prose.
I feel it from time to time, a
dull ache beneath my heart, a yearning to stop time and gather in the
moment. But there are other times, often more frequent, when I dash
here and there like Roadrunner pursued, forgetting to relish the beauty
As a mother, I feel this ache,
this longing to be present with my children. And yet, I strap the yoke
of guilt around myself days upon days because I fail to measure up. I
don’t spend enough presence time with my children. And the ache I feel
from the guilt stifles me to try again, to be like those ancient monks
who simply fell down and got up, fell down and got up.
On Mother’s Day, I read the end
of Gilead. This portion jumped at me, beckoned me:
a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept
it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to
be brave—that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our
eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to
do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.
populates our lives with
people, and I am blessed to have children as a part of His portion to
me. Oh, to honor them, to revel in their beauty. I’ve been growing old
lately (I’ve seen the lines on my face). Frankly, it has alarmed me.
But when I’m quiet, really quiet, I hear the gentle whispers of God
against my aging face, welcoming me to consider real beauty.
I won’t always be youthful. I’m
headed toward heaven with every step on this earth. What will be my
beauty then? Certainly not the way I look when arthritis curves my
back, or the shock of losing my memory. Beauty comes from deep inside.
From loving others. For cherishing them in the moment. From letting the
trials of life sand the edges of my sometimes prickly soul.
I want to wear a beautiful soul
as I age. I fear I’ve pulled away from that, preferring solitude over
relationship. Perhaps reading Gilead was God’s
gracious reminder to me to honor the people He places in my life—my
husband, my children, the mothers at school, the new friends He’s
bringing to me. To do that, I need to shed the guilt straddling my
heart over not being present.
The picture I have is of a
swing, the kind dangling from an ancient tree whose roots run deeper
than its limbs reach high. God beckons me to get on, but I circle it,
making excuses, wondering if the limbs will hold me. It’s not until I
sit, push off with tired feet and feel the wind against my face as I
pump to soaring that I understand freedom, grace, beauty, joy. And when
I stop, breathless and a little dizzy, my friends and family encircle
me, laughing, asking to be a part, cajoling.
I want to swing in the arms of
Jesus, surrounded by the beauty of others.