Study Guide

Gilead Spirituality

By Marilynne Robinson


There are many ways to live a good life. (1.1.1)

Ames isn't one to preach uniformity. "You must be this way" isn't something you'd hear him say. He understands that life is complex and that you can't force people to be one way or another. Instead, Ames prefers to guide and to help.

For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone. (1.2.25)

Ames hopes that his son will feel that he's with him when he later reads the letter. It's a way of traveling through time and remaining present even in death.

It seems to me some people just go around looking to get their faith unsettled. (1.2.35)

Oh, snap. Ames recommends that believers allow their faith to be challenged, but he has little patience for the lukewarm faithful who are just looking for an excuse to leave.

This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it. (1.2.45)

Once again, Ames acknowledges the complexity of life. There's no cure-all kind of faith that will make everything okay; everyone is different. Acknowledging how complicated the world is allows Ames to stay humble, and it's that humility and openness, we think, that makes him such an effective preacher.

I am glad I didn't understand, because I have rarely felt joy like that, and assurance. (1.3.13)

There's a feeling of suspense, wonder, and excitement that comes when you don't have all the cold facts of the matter. An explained mystery loses its luster. The best spiritual stories never explain everything.

You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can't help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. (1.5.24)

For all their singular, unique details, Faces are memorable and recognizable: not only do they have singular, unique details, but they're also the part of the body that reveals most about a person.

…God might actually enjoy us. I believe we think about that far too little. (1.10.2)

How does Ames's conception of God influence his overall spirituality? How are spirituality and religion related for him?

To value suffering in itself can be dangerous and strange, so I want to be very clear about this. It means simply that God takes the side of sufferers against those who afflict them. (1.12.14)

Ames worries that people might think that life is all about suffering, since God is on the side of sufferers. According to Ames, suffering is part of life, but it's not the only sign of God's grace. It's okay to be happy, too—that's also a sign of God's grace.

…I believe also that the rewards of obedience are great, because at the root of real honor is always the sense of the sacredness of the person who is its object. (1.12.18)

The sacredness of the human being is a big theme for Ames. He returns to it again and again in different contexts. In fact, you could say his entire religious worldview is based on this theme.

In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. (1.18.31)

Ames sounds almost like a postmodern philosopher, except that Ames believes that communication is still possible. Derrida: call your house of worship.

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