Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Balm of Gilead

In the northwest of current day Jordan, lies a place once known as Gilead. It was a land divided between Israel’s tribes, and native to this country was a bush that produced a gummy pitch from which a healing balm was made. Thus, the scriptures come to talk about the balm of Gilead.

Marilynne Robinson is an author hallowed in some eternal sense. This novel of hers is the very balm of healing. Set in the rural Midwestern town of Gilead, it is voiced by John Ames, a third generation preacher who has been diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. The book is one long letter, his “begats” as he calls them, to his very young son bound to never really know his dad, except by the accounts of others and this epistle.

I feel I will do this book injustice by offering a synopsis of its contents, however well-intended. I wonder what my feeling of this novel would be if I were not a Christian, but I realize that sort of speculation is useless. All I can say is how I felt when reading it, which is full of awe, and love, and happiness, and sorrow, and forgiveness, and compassion. Perhaps all these emotions are compounded by the fact that I have a brand new baby boy, and that I couldn’t help but think about what I would say to him, were I consigned to a similar fate. I can’t recommend this one enough. Gilead is full of that rare wisdom that takes a life of joy and loss to acquire, and is dulled not by time.

No comments: