Here’s a little more of Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Unlike Gilead, this is really the only place in the book where you get one of John Ames’s written musings, in answer to one of Lila’s questions. I miss those. There is perhaps nothing all that novel here for a contemplative person who has lived and reflected their way through life’s losses, but it’s good all the same. I particularly liked the point that experience does not accumulate.
One morning he read to her at breakfast, something he had written during the night. “Very rough,” he said. “Half of it I’ve crossed out. And this was supposed to be the clean copy.” He cleared his throat. “So. ‘Things happen for reasons that are hidden from us, utterly hidden for as long as we think they must proceed from what has come before, our guilt or our deserving, rather than coming to us from a future that God in his freedom offers to us.’ My meaning here is that you really can’t account for what happens by what has happened in the past, as you understand it anyway, which may be very different from the past itself. If there is such a thing. ‘The only true knowledge of God is born of obedience,’ that’s Calvin, ‘and obedience has to be constantly attentive to the demands that are made of it, to a circumstance that is always new and particular to its moment.’ Yes. ‘Then the reasons that things happen are still hidden, but they are hidden in the mystery of God.’ I can’t read my own writing. No matter. ‘Of course misfortunes have opened the way to blessings you would never have thought to hope for, that you would not have been ready to understand as blessings if they had come to you in your youth, when you were uninjured, innocent. The future always finds us changed.’ So then it is part of the providence of God, as I see it, that blessings or happiness can have very different meanings from one time to another. ‘This is not to say that joy is a compensation for loss, but that each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognized for what it is. Sorrow is very real, and loss feels very final to us. Life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvelous. Our experience is fragmentary. Its parts don’t add up. They don’t even belong in the same calculation. Sometimes it is hard to believe they are all parts of one thing. Nothing makes sense until we understand that experience does not accumulate like money, or memory, or like years and frailties. Instead, it is presented to us by a God who is not under any obligation to the past except to His eternal, freely given constancy.’ Because I don’t mean to suggest that experience is random or accidental, you see. ‘When I say that much the greater part of our existence is unknowable by us because it rests with God, who is unknowable, I acknowledge His grace in allowing us to feel that we know any slightest part of it. Therefore we have no way to reconcile its elements, because they are what we are given out of no necessity at all except God’s grace in sustaining us as creatures we can recognize as ourselves.’ That’s always seemed remarkable to me, that we can do that. That we can’t help but do it. ‘So joy can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other.’”