The Preacher in His Study — An Eloquent Witness

In her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, Gilead, author Marilynne Robinson writes in the voice of Rev. John Ames, a 77-year-old preacher in Gilead, Iowa, who is writing a massive and final letter to his beloved 7-year old son. The novel is set in 1956, when the pastor knows he is dying, and wants to leave an explanation of his life to his young son, born so late in his long life. The preacher offers a wealth of wisdom to his son, including a fascinating testimony to his calling — a life of study and sermons.

Consider this paragraph:

Your mother is respectful of my hours up here in the study. She’s proud of my books. She was the one who actually called my attention to the number of books I have filled with my sermons and my prayers. Say, fifty sermons a year for forty-five years, not counting funerals and so on, of which there have been a great many. Two thousand two hundred and fifty. If they average thirty pages, that’s sixty-seven thousand five hundred pages. Can that be right? I guess it is. I write in a small hand, too, as you know by now. Say three hundred pages make a volume. Then I’ve written two hundred twenty-five books, which puts me up there with Augustine and Calvin for quantity. That’s amazing. I wrote almost all of it in the deepest hope and conviction.

Then, several pages later:

It would be worth my life to try to get those big boxes down on my own. It’s humiliating to have written as much as Augustine, and then to have to find a way to dispose of it. There is not a word in any of those sermons I didn’t mean when I wrote it . If I had the time, I could read my way through fifty years of my innermost life. What a terrible thought. If I don’t burn them someone else will sometime, and that’s another humiliation. This habit of writing is so deep in me, as you will know well enough if this endless letter is in your hands, if it has not been lost or burned also.

Words to enjoy, and to ponder.

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