September 6, 2012

Discussion: Small Wonder - Foreword & Small Wonder

Elizabeth has asked us to think deeply about our faith; to affirm our beliefs; to articulate our defense of the Gospel:
As Christians, it’s a given that we have a moral responsibility to respond decisively to injustice and abject evil, but it’s equally ours to learn to contend for the faith in the face of peace-loving and socially conscious secular reason and thought. All too often, we’ve not adequately prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have, so we either run and hide, fight too hard, or let things go bust. But nobody wins when that happens.
Encouraged - and a little intimidated - by this challenge, I am jumping in to the discussion of Small Wonder, a collection of essays by Barbara Kingsolver. I've just finished listening to perhaps Kingsolver's best-known work, The Poisonwood Bible, which introduced me to her eloquent prose and her strong beliefs about politics and religion.  It also made this task a bit more daunting. Nonetheless, I have great hopes for this discussion.

Kingsolver began writing Small Wonder on September 12, 2011. It started as her own cathartic means of dealing with this unspeakable evil. "Writing, which was both painful and palliative for me, turned out to be my own way of giving blood in a crisis." (Foreword) The first essay, Small Wonder, is her emotionally-charged response in the aftermath of the tragedy. It is clear that the events of that day shook her to the core, inciting her search for answers. Rather than comment on the essay itself, I have chosen one passage that made my heart ache.
[I] have spent a lifetime learning to believe in things that can never burn down. I can invest my heart's desire and the work of my hands in things that will outlive me. Although it grieves me that houses are burning, I have fallen in love with a river that runs through a desert, a rain forest at the edge of night, the right of a species to persist in its own wild place, and the words I might assemble to tell their stories. I've fallen in love with freedom regardless, and the entitlement of a woman to get a move on, equipped with boots that fit and opinions that might matter.  The treasures I carry closest to my heart are things I can't own: the curve of a five-year-old's forehead in profile, and the vulnerable expectation in the hand that reaches for mine as we cross the street. The wake-up call of birds in a forest. The intensity of the light fifteen minutes before the end of the day; the color wash of a sunset on mountains; the ripe sphere of that same sun hanging low in a dusty sky in a breathtaking photograph from Afghanistan...Small change, small wonders - these are the currency of my endurance and ultimately of my life. (20-21)
Kingsolver has realized that the material things in life are temporary, unworthy of our idolatry. This is a noble acknowledgment; however, in her search for something more, she has been deceived into worshiping creation rather than the Creator. I immediately thought of Paul's words in Romans:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 
~Romans 1:18-20, ESV

Paul goes on to write that no one understands; no one seeks for God (Romans 3:11). Kingsolver's words are confirmation. She's not seeking the One True God; she's already found her gods and believes they offer her a life of truth and substance. Our world, our country, our neighborhoods are filled with people who feel the same. They find hope in their children, in the beauty of nature, in a myriad of things. We are surrounded by people who hurt, who just want to feel better. They medicate themselves with various comforts, striving desperately to numb the pain.

How do we, as Believers, begin to minister to those who have set their hopes on these lesser gods? I believe we are wise to start with Peter's instruction to love one another earnestly from a pure heart. (1 Peter 1:22) I confess my struggles in this area - frustration with hardened hearts, impatience with those drowning in sin and death, pride and an ugly sense of entitlement to the grace I have done nothing to deserve. 

Loving from a pure heart demands that I share the Gospel. Yes, some - perhaps many - will reject it. I must remember that it's not my job to save people, only to glorify God by being obedient to His command.

I look forward to this challenge of Elizabeth's. To be encouraged by what others are learning, read the discussion on the Foreword and Small Wonder here.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for such a thoughtful and helpful contribution to the Small Wonder discussion.

Truly an excellent job in bringing out the book's historical 9/11 context and a sensitive appraisal of her values in light of Scripture.

A lovely complement to session one. Thank you!

Becky said...

I agree with E. Your thoughts are a great contribution to the discussion. Thank you.