a balm

Just finished Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and it took my breath away. A beautiful book. Severe, spare but also incandescent; to me it spoke of the redemptive power of the mundane and of the need to be open to our lives taking different paths than we had imagined. To remaining open to grace occuring in ways, places, and people we had not anticipated. The narrator evinces a sense of wonder that is both gossamer and sturdy. Many quotations resonated with me. Since I like to chicken out and quote others rather than say my own piece (you know who you are, accuser of that!) here are some of my favorite passages:

There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that.

The sensation is of really knowing a creature. I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.

I feel in some ways as if I hardly knew him, and in others as if I have been talking to him my whole life.

This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.

I can’t tell you, though, how I felt, walking along beside him that night, along that rutted road, through that empty world – what sweet strength I felt, in him, and in myself and all around us. I am glad I didn’t understand, because I have rarely felt joy like that, and assurance. It was like one of those dreams where you’re filled with some extravagant feeling you might never have in life, it doesn’t matter what it is, even guilt or dread, and you learn from it what an amazing instrument you are, so to speak, what a power you have to experience beyond anything you might ever actually need.

Now that I look back, it seems to me that in that deep darkness a miracle was preparing. So I am right to remember it as a blessed time, and myself as waiting in confidence, even if I had no idea what I was waiting for.

Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time.

Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life.

So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for.

I enjoy the hope that when we meet I will not be estranged from you by all the oddnesses life has carved into me.

When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you.

That’s her courage, her pride, and I know you will be respectful of it, and remember at the same time that a very, very great gentleness is called for, a great kindness. Because no one ever has that sort of courage who hasn’t needed it.

A moment is such a slight thing, I mean, that its abiding is a most gracious reprieve.

I have wandered to the limits of my understanding any number of times, out into that desolation, that Horeb, that Kansas, and I’ve scared myself, too, a good many times, leaving all landmarks behind me, or so it seemed. And it has been among the true pleasures of my life. Night and light, silence and difficulty, it seemed to me always rigorous and good.

Cataract that this world it, it is remarkable to consider what does abide in it.

I’d rather drop dead doing for myself than add a day to my life by acting helpless.

There is no justice in love, no proportion in it and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?

I can imagine him beyond the world, looking back at me with an amazement of realization – “This is why we have lived this life!” There are a thousand thousand reasons to have lived this life, every one of them sufficient.

Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be 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 a great harm. And therefore, this courage allows us, as the old men said, to make ourselves useful. It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying exactly the same thing.

1 thought on “a balm”

  1. I absolutely love your blog, even linking to it today on my blog, and have been scrolling through your archives and just drinking it all in. Gorgeous writing!

    I love these quotes from GILEAD, a book I have been meaning to read for some time now. I’m always curious about the reading habits of others, do you highlight or write in your books or do you jot these quotes down on another piece of paper while you’re reading?

    Just curious…

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