In Times of Trouble, Try Looking Up


As a writer of little note, I don’t have the nerve to say this about my own writing, but I am pleased that Pat Conroy ( Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Great Santini {my favorite},etc…) did express it in a recent issue of Writer magazine. “A novel is my fingerprint, my identity card, and the writing of novels is one of the few ways I have found to approach the altar of God and creation itself. You try to worship God by performing the singular courageous and impossible favor of knowing yourself.

Yep, I’m talking religion—religion, spirituality and faith. Some of us were brought up to believe that politics and religion were not proper topics for group discussion. I beg to differ. How can we learn if we don’t openly discuss?  I received several copies of an e-mail titled Look Up a day or so ago. One phrase says: Sorrow looks back, worry looks around, but faith looks up. Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, and trust in our Creator—Who loves us. If there has ever been a time to look up, this is it.

And it is Christmas season, so I am going to foray into the reason for the season.  I wrote this a few months back, but have been hesitant to post it because I see myself as functionally illiterate on the subject. But I write not as an expert, but as someone with a deep desire to learn.

My bet is that there are a lot of you out there in the boat with me. My justification is that I will be using the words of people that I admire and respect and who do have that expertise. With apologies to all you biblical scholars, evangelists, and other preachers out there, here goes.

When I was a boy, religion in our home was tender to the touch, sometimes maybe even raw. Our forays into organized religion were subject to fits and starts. I heard a lot about a vengeful God from hellfire and brimstone preachers. I feared His wrath, and knew with some degree of certainty that I deserved it.

It never (well, almost never) rained from the time I was six until I was twelve. As I watched our crops and cattle suffer and our pools dry up and our financial predicament regress from poor to desperate, I wondered what we had done to deserve such punishment. And were our neighbors also guilty of making God angry?

I described one of our sporadic embraces of religious fervor in a tent revival scene in Rivers Flow. One man seated in the back of the tent bolted from his seat and ran down the aisle.  . . .  the man’s tongue shot out of his mouth and flopped on his chin. He fell backward as if pulled by an invisible rope, flopping on his back and grinding his body against the grass. Jake could smell the dust and the bruised goat weeds the man was wallowing in.

We were believers, but family tragedy and extreme hardship made religion uncomfortable to talk about. We simply did not understand. My Sunday School lessons began to take on some minor degree of clarity when Aunt Lilas gave me her son Jerry’s set of children’s Bibles when Jerry left for the service (both Testaments in color and pictures). I still occasionally refer to them.

One of the great ironies of life seems to be that we often learn how to properly do some task, master a skill, or handle a situation after we feel it is too late to apply what we have learned. Thankfully, I think religion is different. Maybe it isn’t too late.

I remember taking snow skiing lessons many years ago. The instructor spent several minutes trying to explain how to snowplow. I had no idea what he was talking about. Then a fellow beside me illustrated it and told me to think of squashing an ant with my heels. I understood that.

This illustrates how some people “speak to you” while others’ communications go in one ear and out the other. I think I have discovered that this is not always the teacher’s fault; it’s just that there needs to be a match of teacher to pupil.

Ever had a child, spouse, client or friend talk about a book read, a seminar attended, a lecture heard, that revealed some great secret or answer to a question they have been pondering for a lifetime? Ever listen to their enthusiasm, all the while wanting to shout that you have been trying to tell them this secret for years?

Don’t blame them. The author, speaker, or teacher they heard spoke to them. You may not have. It could have been because they knew you too well, that the message had to be delivered by a stranger. In my old business, we often referred to an expert as a person with a briefcase who has traveled more than a hundred miles. There’s a lot of truth to that. We listen to these “experts” while we fail to “hear” the same wisdom from familiar sources.

Next week, I will be talking about author C. S. Lewis and one of his books, Mere Christianity and its effect on me. Then we will explore two more books by another author. You have been warned.

Jim Ainsworth is author of Rivers Flow. Click here to read more about the book or purchase a copy direct from Amazon. 

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