Tuesday, June 7, 2016
How Fiction Offers Soul Care
I finished reading Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter on Sunday. I'm thinking that's about my seventh or eighth time through that book ever since I picked it up from the library shelf with enamored eyes and bated breath. Freckles is one of those books I've always shelved in the soul care category of my mind. It's comforting and familiar. I've walked the trail with him, loved, fought, anguished, and conquered ever since I was a young teenager.
It got me to thinking this morning about soul care books. Soul care is the idea of a place of retreat. Of relaxation and healing. A place where, when our soul is battered and bruised, we can turn to for something to cling to and love, something to remind us of good and comfort. Something to wrap us in an embrace of hope.
I was browsing through Facebook this morning and saw a picture with the caption, "I am strong, but I am tired." That statement deeply resonated with me. We all face those times, where every fibre of energy goes into surviving--could be emotionally, physically, or spiritually, and we need that place of retreat. For me, in many ways, books have been that place of soul care. Sometimes it's only a few minutes a day, or a page before bed. But in those words and pages of something familiar, the spirit finds respite from troubling things and rests in the shadow of the Almighty.
It's the simple stories that bring soul care to me. Stories like Cinderella, which really masks deep pain under the guise of beautiful blue dresses and sweet mice, stories where a prince comes and rescues. It's in Amazing Grace, watching Wilberforce sit soaking in the fact that it is finished, and everyone's crying. It's in stories like Freckles, where the Angel meets him in the swamp and offers life and love and revolver in his defense. It's in Jane of Lantern Hill, where even though family splits exist, there are still beautiful summers of life and friendship where one can be Jane and not Victoria. It's Prester John, where adventure is met with gritted teeth and clear thinking. And it's in Tidings of Comfort and Joy, where much grief is met with much healing.
Perhaps a familiar book offers soul care because it is safe. It is finished. The end has been written. Sometimes we find ourselves in life circumstances where we desperately want to know the end of something--where we want clarity and reassurance. Reading stories that already have an end can offer comfort in the midst of that. For a moment, we are able to rest in the hands of the author, guiding us through beloved paths to a final haven of completeness. It's a mirror of our God who knows the end, and holds all things in his hands.
I think another reason why these books are soul care is simply because they're so familiar. It's like slipping on a favorite shirt or pair of earrings and feeling that familiarity.
The idea of soul care or retreat might feel strange or guilty at first. Why would you take a break from life circumstances? Why would you try to escape them? I think first of all, it is a deliberate reminder to mind and heart that good things do happen--fiction, after all, mirrors reality in that regards. We need that reminder in life. It tells us the end while we are still in the middle: that good does triumph. I think too, that the human soul was not made for constant burden. We are human, and we should not expect almighty strength from ourselves. God lets us rest under his wings when we are overwhelmed. Even youths grow weary and stumble, but they that wait on the Lord renew their strength. Just like he made the earth need cycles of rest and fallow ground, so sometimes we need to let the ground of our hearts lie fallow and rest--not trying to wrestle through a tough new book, but going back to the familiar and reassuring of a well-loved and worn volume.
Soul care, in the end, is resting in the power of God's love and ability to handle all of my life for all of his glory. It acknowledges the worship of rest as well as the worship of work. It accepts the fact that just as God has created us to need food to replenish our bodies, so he has created us to need comfort and refreshment to replenish our minds and souls.
I'm so grateful for books that can offer that, often for twenty-five cents or less.
Which books do you go to when you need to rest? :)