Reading as a Spiritual Practice: Historical Fiction

I read Gone with the Wind for the first time when I was 11 years old. I had seen the movie on TV with my mom one night and wanted to know more of the story. So, my mom got me the book. I devoured it! I loved the sweeping descriptions of ball gowns and afternoons of courting. I loved the fierce love between a woman and her home. I didn’t realize that I was swallowing a fictional view of the old South. It wasn’t until I was in high school and encountered Uncle Tom’s Cabin that I saw how deep the fairy tale of Gone with the Wind dove past reality. I wonder sometimes if Uncle Tom’s Cabin would have had such a profound effect on me if I hadn’t loved Gone with the Wind so fiercely?

Good historical fiction gives us access to a world that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. And it does it through the most powerful means possible–story. While I am bad at remembering the dates and locations of the battles of the Civil War, I remember that Sherman burned Atlanta because Margret Mitchell’s description of Scarlett fleeing the fire is imbedded in my brain.

The two books I wanted to bring to you in our examination of reading historical fiction as spiritual practice actually occurred in similar time settings. And they tell similar stories. Why bring both? They highlighted for me a need to tell these kinds of stories. These stories have been a quiet part of Christianity’s history. They have been the background, the unusual, the suspect. But I need these stories. I need to know that they happened. I need to know that they are part of the tapestry of history that I walk in community with. I need to know these things because these stories are in my DNA. They shape me, predict my reactions, and show me how the larger community could respond. More on them tomorrow…

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