In the three months of my retirement from local church ministry I’ve been doing what I love the most—reading and writing. One of the books I took off my shelf to reread is Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead, which led me to another of her books off my shelf, Home, and that led me to her recently published book in the same series, Jack. I think that I’ll now reread the other in the series, Lila. These books are rich and beautiful, dense with dialogue and deep in wisdom and insight into the inner life and relationships of two small-town—Gilead, Iowa—lifelong Protestant pastors, Reverend John Ames and his closest friend, Reverend Robert Boughton. Rereading Gilead just two months into my retirement from being a Protestant minister, was a much different experience from my first reading of it about fifteen years ago. Gilead is written as a letter to John Ames’ young son as John reckons with his death from a heart condition. I don’t live with a diagnosis of a fatal illness, yet retiring from my over thirty years as pastoral counselor and local church pastoring, is a reckoning of sorts. Like Rev. Ames, I now have several boxes of sermons stored away, collecting dust and maturity. And, like John, I don’t have much motivation to go back to them. Some of them may still contain some glowing embers of the Holy Spirit fire, others seem like ashes and dust, all of them written with sincerity out of a particular time, place, and situations.
I return now to a writing project that could be likened to John’s writing to his son. I’m working on writing a memoir of my development into becoming the mother of Temma Day Lowly leading me to become a pastor. God and church-haunted all my life, in my writing, I’m coming to grips with a Reformed Calvinist Protestant theology in the themes of forgiveness, shame, body-image, and salvation.
In relationship to his namesake and godson, Jack Boughton, the son of Ames’ best friend, John Ames wrestles with his own beliefs and identity as a forgiven and forgiving God-lover. Jack, as we find out in Robinson’s most recent book by his name, is the outsider, the “other” of the family. John has a very hard time accepting him, yet it is Jack who comes back to Gilead seeking for and calling for change and forgiveness to heal the soul of all involved. Temma Day is my “other” and it has taken me her lifetime and I will continue learning how to love her and forgive myself as she does.