I’m picky when it comes to fiction. I love to read, but finding fiction novels I enjoy feels few and far between. I’m more comfortable picking up something “real” on a subject I want to learn about. Something on spiritual formation, psychology, or even a good memoir that opens a window to have a look at someone's true story. I loved novels when I was younger, and somewhere along the way, I started needing information more than story but story I'm finding, is a part of everything.
It's always a journey and over the last few years, I’ve practiced reading more reflectively. No matter what I feel led to read now, I like remembering the Holy Spirit is actively inviting, working to renew and restore me, even as I read. How does what I’m reading make me feel? What’s true about life with God in this?
The way I read has become more about leaving room for the Holy Spirit to take the lead.
It's been nearly a year since one of my dearest friends recommended a novel to me. Last week, I felt a nudge to find it in my local library. “Hannah Coulter,” written by the contemplative poet farmer activist Wendell Berry, gives truths in story form that are ministering to me on my journey with God.
Even when an author writes a made-up story, it speaks of our human experience.
In the story, Hannah's stepmother is now old and doesn’t remember much of anything, certainly not how her presence and way of being disturbed Hannah’s childhood. During her brief encounter with this now old woman’s frail reality, Hannah felt the tension rise up in her body. She wasn't sure how she wanted to respond to this woman, but she was aware that she was experiencing strong emotions of hurt and anger. As Hannah came face to face with her, Hannah experienced what she needed to. Her heart was honest, open, and restless. Wendell writes that Hannah awoke in the night and realized while she was at rest, sleeping, something was happening. She was forgiving her stepmother. The realization felt so real, so powerful in Hannah's body, that it woke her up!
“My old hatred and contempt and fear, that I had kept so carefully so long, were gone, and I was free.”
We all know healing comes slowly, and in my experience, a layer at a time. In the story, Hannah is no different. If we practice allowing our bodies to pay attention, we have emotions and thoughts connected to particular parts of our history. There are realities about our story where we weren't seen and safe and loved and when we're triggered by fear or shame we're almost shocked by our own skin with the personal intensity, even years later. How can they not realize how they hurt me? How do I forgive? Why does my body still go into fight or flight mode?
We tend to feel nervous that Spirit of God will show us more than we can handle, but that’s just it. We’re not meant to “handle it.” We’re meant to feel safe and keep opening up to our story and walk through the wounded place letting our Shepherd care for us. Sometimes, we fear we’ll become too overwhelmed by acknowledging our deepest pain, but the healing actually helps relieve our depressed, weary condition. With great surprise and gentleness, similar to how Wendell surprised me with Hannah’s healing, Jesus reveals to us things we’re free to let go of now, forgive, and receive redemption.
David knew the Lord would sometimes instruct Him, even at night (Psalm 16). And, when the Lord did, David would awaken the next morning a little different. A layer at a time. Letting God do it. David experienced so many moments in his life, some we have no idea about, where God graced him with something he spiritually needed for healing and human flourishment. We have the same opportunity today.
When Jesus encounters us, it's often just above a whisper, but feels more real than anything else. He has no desire to leave us in the condition we’re in. He knows how much healing He wants to offer us in an abundant life with Him. Like this beautiful woman Hannah, whom Wendell penned with captivating precision to what life as humans is like, the Lord is writing a story over us and in us through it all.
So, friend, I say, let’s let Him...
How are you listening and hearing Jesus' voice in your life right now? What kind of support might be helpful to you on your journey? How do you want to respond?