November 16, 2013

A Priestly Business - by Marcia Janson

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you think about it, reading fiction is kind of odd.  We voluntarily suspend disbelief and allow our minds to become part of an alternate reality. For a few hours, we jump into life events in another place and time while embracing the worldview of characters who may be very different from us.  It’s an escape from the present moment that is kind of like an island stopover between the lands of waking and dreaming. Even though our intellectual minds are in control of the whole process, there is a sense in which our imaginations open us to a dream world where fantasy and reality intersect.

When we close the book, we must re-focus on our own lives, but something has changed. The remnants of the novel’s events or atmosphere tend to linger on, affecting our mood and even our outlook on life. Good fiction quite often inspires a sense of unrest in our minds, as we try to come to terms with a new understanding of human existence. That’s usually a good thing, but how it affects us depends on what types of characters the author has created and what philosophy of life drives their attitudes and behaviour.

We may come away from some novels feeling just terrible. A certain dark cynicism or fear tries to creep in, pushing Godly hope into the background. Alternatively, it is wonderful if the writer has, in some subtle way, woven God threads into the fabric of the story. Even a tiny spark of redemptive love or surprising joy in the midst of despair can make the human spirit sing.

Gore Vidal once made an intriguing comment: 

Writing fiction has become a priestly business in countries that have lost their faith.”  

There’s a lot of truth in that. In Canada, it seems that the majority of people consider spirituality to be a side issue.The general cultural message is, “Follow whatever god you wish, but don’t bring your faith into the public square.”  

Outside the walls of the Church, not many people read Bibles or buy Christian novels and magazines. As Gore Vidal’s remark implies, that does not mean that people aren’t looking for answers to the deep questions of life. The world of fiction - that island stopover between waking and dreaming - is a place where the heart and intellect can enter into and live a story together. There is spiritual hunger out there and Christian fiction writers in particular have an opportunity to provide a small oasis where people can sample a little taste of God’s banquet. 

If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it.  ~Toni Morrison
Photo credit
Woman with candle -


  1. Thanks for this thoughtful commentary. Vidal's observations are quite profound.

  2. Vidal's quote is very thought-provoking. I appreciated this blog entry. Thanks Marcia.

  3. Thanks, Tracy and Connie. I was quite taken with Vidal's ideas about this too. I hadn't thought about it this way before, but as soon as I read what he wrote (in my travels through cyberspace while writing this article), it rang true.

  4. Henrietta Frankensee9:12 pm GMT-7

    Very thought provoking. The people at also tackled this subject on Friday. I like the idea of priesthood in writing. An intermediary between God and man.

  5. Thanks, Marcia. Your blog says so clearly how fiction can affect the reader. I agree with your saying, " (Fiction is) an escape from the present moment that is kind of like an island stopover between the lands of waking and dreaming." As readers, we allow ourselves to go on that journey.

    As writers, we can weave ". . . God threads into the fabric of the story." We can include "a tiny spark of redemptive love or surprising joy." What beautiful antidotes to the despair another worldview offers!

  6. Thank you for your comments, Sharon and Henrietta. I am encouraged and blessed by what you have said!

  7. Great Marcia!I enjoyed reading your posting. Keep them coming!

  8. So beautifully said Marcia! I love the idea of writing fiction as a priestly activity, as we stand between God and one of his beloved children.


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