The way the story goes, a perfect gorgeous wedding dress of silk and satin, sewn by hand in 1912 with gold thread, and the focus of a ruckus in the segregationist South, arrived to each of its four intended brides over the course of a century, the fabric never yellowing, the size fitting each bride perfectly without need for alterations.
What I didn’t realize when I bought it was that it’s a Christian novel. I was clued in by the dedication, to Jesus, the glorious bridegroom.
OK, I’m a spiritual gal and I have no problem reading a religious novel if the writing is good. It was almost a challenge as I peeled back the cover: be good. prove me wrong.
Back in my most fervent Orthodox days, I picked up a few religious novels with Jewish intonations and found them lacking. Upbeat and cheery, surely. Sticking to the letter of Jewish law, you bet. But good writing? Not by a long shot.
(All the women’s elbows, knees and collarbones are covered, they all wear headscarves and the biggest challenge is whether to live in the land of Israel or stay in the comfort of New York. I mock, yes, but it’s not too far from the truth.)
So I was pleasantly surprised that this novel ended up being a mellifluous example of good prose, storyline and character development all the way through.
The only problem was with the Christian references.
You see, they just didn’t go with the story. It felt like the author was trying too hard, had to fit them in because, doggone it, she’s a Christian author, and her focus must always be The Lord. (praise God!)
The characters were believable when they went to church. I could even buy the main character’s flashback explanation of being “saved” one teenage summer. Still. The majority of the “in God’s Hands” references and author’s explanation of the bridal gown fitting everyone perfectly over the course of a century as a perfect analogy for the Gospel’s endurance just felt plunked down to prove yes, this is Christian fiction.
I didn’t buy it for a minute and frankly, it marred the experience of reading some really good writing.
But of course everything happens for a reason.
I found that lesson hugely important for just about everything today. The messages I gleaned were what you force does not flow; follow the path you’re on rather than trying to carve the path you think you should follow; and, our stories unfold as they are supposed to; they only get stunted when we meddle.
Pretty good messages, actually.
These messages ring true in relationships, in business, in parenting, in self-reflection. Just don’t TRY so hard, dammit. Let life flow. It does, you know. The only time we hit bumps in the road is when we get in our own way.
On the author’s website, she says she’s spent her life telling stories, that the best stories come from a partnership with the Divine. I get that. I believe that. I know first-hand that when you believe in something greater than yourself, more happens, life unfolds more fully, you realize your true destiny.
It’s just the artificial Praise Jesus exclamations that strike a disharmonious chord.
There are those who preach fully and loudly so that everyone can hear, see and feel the Gospel and come to the recognition that they must believe in the one true God. There are those who eschew any type of deity and instead believe in the goodness (or badness) of humanity.
And there are those who believe the best way they can minister to others is by being a great, living example of the Truth as they see it. I’m in that camp.
It’s not for me to say what you should do, think or feel. It’s for me and me alone. The way I pray. IF I pray. To whom I pray. Personal. Significant. Like two snowflakes – no two alike.
Yesterday, I spent the day on the cold clear waters of Lake Michigan’s bays, sailing alongside a friend and client, with my family and his all around us. A certain kind of prayer. Reverence. Something so much greater and awe-inspiring than us.
We were all reverent people, believers of something, respectful of godliness. We gathered on an incredible sailboat and cruised away over the undulating waves to cross the miles from landform to landform.
Everywhere around us, we find the divine. It’s not limited to a certain storyline or a particular interpretation.
That’s the beauty of it, really. I have long believed that all faithful people – and even those who claim they are without faith – are saying the same thing, simply using different words.
I don’t care whether you call it God or Divine or Jesus or Allah or Shiva or whatever. The one thing we have in common is this: believe, pure and true, in the ability of a bad day to turn into a good one, of a broken heart to heal and of a boat to leave harbor with the trust and promise that it will once again dock in safety, at the end of its journey.