Literature: incarnating the precept.

April 15, 2012

I wrote this a little while ago elsewhere but decided to post it here today.

One of my favorite authors and literary inspirations is Elizabeth Prentiss, author of Stepping Heavenward and writer of the hymn, “More Love to Thee, O Christ.”  I first discovered her my sophomore year of college while haunting The Shepherd’s Conference bookstore in 2004 with my friend Stephanie. There, we asked one of the pastors’ wives for book recommendations.  She held up a copy of Stepping Heavenward and recommended it to us as one of her “favorite rainy day reads.”  I bought it right away.

A week later, I got stay-in-bed sick.  So for two straight days, I ate crackers and wept through the pages of Stepping Heavenward.

It had been a year of spiritual depression, soul darkness.  I shut down.  Shut people out.  Became morbidly introspective.  Doubted my salvation.  Imagined God was constantly frowning on me — after all, if He’d saved me, couldn’t I get it together now and sin no more?

But in the pages of Stepping Heavenward, Elizabeth Prentiss let me live for a while in the shoes of Katy.  She let me read her journals, hear her prayers, and see God’s nearness and kindness in her life.

I had learned so much theology up to that point in my life, but I didn’t know half of what it looked like in real life.  But in that book, I caught a glimpse of it.

To this day, I’m thankful for stories — fictions, biographies, allegories — that help make transcendent truth, imminent truth.  Literature that fleshes out the reality of Christ, the reality of walking with Him, for kids both young and old.  After all, isn’t that one of the greatest values of Christian literature?

Whereas expository writing gives us the precept, literature incarnates the precept in an example — an example that does not simply illustrate the truth but is itself the meaning.  A work of literature is incarnational — it embodies meaning.  The customary literary terminology for talking about this is to say that the writer of literature shows rather than tells.

(Leland Ryken, Words of Delight, p. 13)

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