On Reading the Unabridged Version of George MacDonald’s ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD
Posted by Peter Kazmaier
I have enjoyed the many fine abridged versions of George MacDonald’s books, but have recently moved to unabridged copies of his works. I can see why many 21st century readers do not have the patience to read the asides and the sermons, but for me they have been a special delight.
At one point in Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood, MacDonald writes down the Reverent Walton’s complete Christmas sermon to his parish. What especially interested me: Walton did not assume everyone in the congregation was at the same place in their spiritual journey. He spoke to three groups of people and recognized the questions they were asking and worked to help each group move further along the way rather than upbraiding some of them for their lack of faith. The first group he addressed were those who had begun to hope that the good news of New Testament were true, but deep down believed it was too good to be true.
People who wished the good news message were true, but thought it was it was not
I think moving from a position of convinced agnosticism (an oxymoron) to a wish that the message were true opens one’s mind to the point where one might listen to what is being said. “Begun to hope” is the operative phrase since these listeners did not really believe their hope could be true. I think there are two disastrous mistakes to avoid here (disastrous mistakes for both the inquirer and anyone who might speak with them on the subject):
The first, is to try to believe something simply because it might be helpful. To use hyperbole, this is akin to a high jumper convincing himself he can clear a ten meter bar in the hope his new found confidence will help him to clear two meters. At all costs, we must not lie to ourselves. It is much better to be scrupulously honest with ourselves even if it takes us longer to recognize the truth. Here is some dialogue from my upcoming book Coventry 2091. In this story, Geisbrecht is a counselor helping Jacob Kraiser get over nightmares about his parents and siblings death in a car accident.
Geisbrecht looked at Jacob for a moment and then said, “Here’s what I want you to do. Start a journal. Write about the good times with your parents and siblings. By the way, do you believe you’ll see them again?”
“I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Well think about it. If you really believe this absence is temporary—and I mean really believe because you are convinced that’s the reality—then that conviction puts a whole different complexion on these questions. But don’t fool yourself. Don’t talk yourself into a conviction. Be scrupulously honest.”
Giesbrecht looked at Jacob as he thought about the question. “No, I don’t believe I’ll see them again.”
Giesbrecht sighed. “Well that makes things harder. Write down everything you remember about your parents and siblings, good times and bad. Especially, after you wake up after a nightmare, pull out your journal and write. If you were a Christ-follower, I’d tell you to pray. I’d also tell you to write about God’s love and goodness. Maybe you’ll be able to do that honestly in time, but right now you can’t and I don’t want you pretending and lying to yourself.”
Giesbrecht gave Jacob a searching look. “Will you begin journaling?”
Jacob might be tempted to propagandize himself into believing that he would see his family again because of the beneficial effect (I’m not even sure this kind of deep cognitive dissonance is possible) of feeling more at peace and less traumatized by the loss of parents and siblings. Geisbrecht cautions him against this tendency because we ought to believe things because they are true and connected to reality and not because they make us feel a certain way.
The second mistake is to view good news as “wishful thinking” and dismiss it merely because we believe we are falling victim to our own wish fulfillment desires. Dismissing good news, merely because the news is good makes no sense. As truth seekers we must follow the evidence where it leads and one of the chief decisions we have to make has to do with what evidence we allow for consideration.
MacDonald through Walton speaks to two other groups of listeners:
- Those who have begun to believe the Good News is true, but fear they might be disappointed if they looked into it more closely.
- Those who have become convinced the message is true. They then wonder what it will mean for their lives. Will they go on? Will they act and their convictions? Exercising our will and making a decision is always the last hurtle, isn’t it?
Those groups of listeners may merit further discussion in the future.
If you’re interested in checking out my books, here is a link for your convenience … https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00JB0IWE6
About Peter KazmaierLover of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Author of the SF series THE HALCYON CYCLE. I frequently re-read my favourite books. http://tinyurl.com/p46woa4
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.