Finding God in Fiction, by Rachel McMillan.
One of my favourite musicians, David Crowder, penned a crafty treatise on praise where he examined how to find God in “Sushi and Sunsets”. Crowder’s book takes a look at the things we view and experience every day- and how they, in their numerous forms, can act as a portal of worship. If we are to accept all good things as a gift from the Creator, then why shouldn’t a beautiful symphony, a painting, an exciting piece of architecture or a gourmet meal make us anything but elated and thankful? Christians, I believe, can find God and good in many things. For me, as a voracious reader, I find Him in fiction. Ever since I was a young girl, I loved the pastel-coloured, beautiful worlds of L.M. Montgomery. Her critics call her penchant for long, flowery musings on nature her “purple prose”; I view her descriptors as a lens through which I can revel in the beauty of the Creator.
Montgomery was born and spent the first part of her life (with the exception of a brief sojourn in Saskatchewan), in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Prince Edward Island is a divinely beautiful place: full of colour and natural jeweled-tones and light. The ocean is majestic under the regal slant and scope of the red cliffs, the flora and fauna abound, tall, handcrafted lighthouses wink their lights smartly over the waves. It is a gloriously majestic place and an obvious inspiration for an imaginative writer. Montgomery’s fiction, with the publication of Anne of Green Gables put Canada on the literary map of the world. While it introduced a delightful creation in its eponymous heroine, it also allowed the world to steal inside of Montgomery’s brain and see the world through the telescope of her mind. Montgomery could find beauty in everything: each season, each storm, each downward rain-pour and cold winter night. She loved finding the lovely in the everyday. The undercurrent and thesis of many of her novels speaks to heroines finding love and romance beyond their ideals, in their own backyards, with the grounding and promise of a cherished homestead where they can hang their hearts and hats and settle home. Montgomery, indeed, created worlds she would have loved to live in. It was easy for her to transpose the brushstroke of nature’s painted canvas to written world it was not, however, as easy to patch together the love and family she never had.
What she lacked in familial love, however, she made up for tenfold in imagination and humour. Montgomery had a keen and persistently observant eye for the human condition. Anyone familiar with her works will immediately think of the industrious gossiper Rachel Lynde in Anne of Green Gables—who is at once frustrating and endearing. Readers of the Emily of New Moon trilogy will call to mind simple and poetic cousin Jimmy who has a child-like goodness to him. Readers of The Blue Castle will recall “Roaring” Abel Gay: the robust and hearty carpenter whose flaming-red beard and outlandish ways catch the attention and speculation of the residents of small Deerwood, Muskoka.
Montgomery populated the world of her mind’s eye with a carousel of humorous characters, uplifting anecdotes and long tomes on the glory of nature. Unbeknownst to most readers, most of her novels were written in Ontario after Montgomery’s marriage to the Rev. Ewan MacDonald and her uprooting from PEI. Here, in the rural farmlands, far from the ocean, Montgomery would call back to mind “lover’s lane”, the “Haunted Wood”, “the Lake of Shining Waters” and all of the small, homey, personally-christened spurts of nature that would lead her path back to the ecstatic geography of her childhood. Indeed, with the exception of The Blue Castle (set in and around Bala, Muskoka, where Montgomery vacationed) and half of Jane of Lantern Hill (set partly in the West End of Toronto where Montgomery ended her life), all of her novels and short stories are set on the Island of her heart. While her life was far from ideal (she and her husband suffered from battles over publisher’s rights, the disappointing and wayward path of their eldest son, and from mental anguish, depression and anxiety treated with primitive medication), her fiction preserved the good that she was wont to find in everything.
Close readers of her work and her life writing (she left one autobiography entitled “The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career”, scrapbooks and volumes of personal journals) will easily denote the separation between Montgomery’s blissful fiction and her tragic real life. However, they will also easily recognize her potential and ability to spin yarns that will warm the hearts of her devout readers. It is not just in the quiet romances or quaintly funny domestic scenes; but in her ability to coax readers into viewing and appreciating nature and God’s beauty in the same way she did. She delighted in God’s creation. She believed that nature was the serene and splendid gift of a loving Creator. Battling with religion and her role of a minister’s wife was taxing on her spiritual walk; but she never ceased believing in God and I can assume part of her steadfast belief was born of her ability to steal into nature.
I am an advocate for finding God wherever I can. When I leaf through the pages of my favourite (and very well-worn and loved Montgomery books), I see Him everywhere: in the little things —in the natural beauty and light. Someday you may make it to the Atlantic Provinces of Canada and feel your breath stolen as mine is every time I stand near the Atlantic Ocean. Or, perhaps, you will read a few of Montgomery’s passages and appreciate the unique and varied nature around you. God is in everything and His brushstrokes are those of an original Master. He doesn’t make two snowflakes exactly the same fall from the sky. In the same way, He created a world different and unique and wonderful. “There are many different kinds of loveliness”, Barney Snaith tells Valancy in The Blue Castle, and looking at the creation around us we can easily concede this to be so.
To find out more about Rachel, visit our writer’s page.
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