Note: This was originally written in 2012 and slightly edited since then.
…and how good is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:23)
It was my Mom who first suggested Gilead to me. What a wise and blessed soul she was. At the time I’m pretty sure my response was something like: “Does it have helicopters? Spies? Global conspiracies? No?! Then it’s not for me.” I don’t actually remember what I said, but that sounds about right. At some point after that initial introduction to the existence of the book, I picked it up read a few pages. For some reason it didn’t draw me in at the time – probably the glaring absence of helicopters. It just didn’t resonate with my life and heart. I hadn’t suffered enough, hadn’t matured enough, and wasn’t yet asking the kinds of questions the book seeks to ask and answer.
What a difference a couple of years can make! This time when I picked it up and read the first few paragraphs, it was like a crisp breeze from an unseen window brushed my face, like a single ray of light from where the roof didn’t quite line up warming your skin. Now I’m not a very good writer, but that sort of description, slow, methodical description, and many, many commas, linked together in a way that would make most English teachers frown, at least the ones I had, to make epic sentences that somehow your mind follows perfectly, is kind of what you find in Gilead.
The quality of the writing is simply superb. There’s a reason this book won a Pulitzer prize. To a limping and parched heart, the beauty of this book was a river of grace. And not just indirectly, because the main character, John Ames, is an old man who’s been a preacher all his life, and his thoughts are filled with explicit and implicit usages of Scripture. The caliber of relational insight in this book is amazing. It’s one of those books where the relationships are so gripping because of the details, the looks, the unspoken words, the tones and inflections of voice, all coalesce together to paint an incredible portrait of human interaction in all of its beautiful complexity. The combination of that insightfulness with the gentle warmth of this old preacher’s soul reverberating through his writing (for the book is really a long letter that John Ames is writing to his young son) is what made the book so powerful for me.
As this old saint struggles to love within one particularly difficult relationship, he comes face to face with the humbling limits of his own character and sanctification. It’s an experience I can relate to, one that I think any believer can relate to. To see the internal struggle, the slow, prayerful processing that took place, was helpful for me. And that he divulged his innermost thoughts for his son’s future reading, making himself very vulnerable in doing so, was also special. Overall it’s just a touching book on multiple levels. Shoot – that really doesn’t do it justice. Why are you still reading this drivel anyways? Go read Gilead.
Another aspect that I really enjoyed was the simplicity of small town life that the author captured beautifully. The slower pace, the community inter-connectedness, the peaceful enjoyment of nature’s daily miracles like the sunrise, the light, the rain, the trees and the plants, the sunset, dawn and dusk, and fireflies. The writing was so good, so exquisite, that you really have to slow down and just enjoy each sentence like a delicious bite of your favorite food. And because I read too quickly through some pages, I am going to have to read it again some day and enjoy it all over.