The author of the best fiction book of 2021 (according to The Word Guild) reflects on the strange idea that God would take an interest in an artist’s work.
As a writer, I wish that inspiration flowed to me as easily and abundantly as water cascades over Niagara Falls. I could grab my pen and take dictation while the words and thoughts come effortlessly to my mind. In reality, as every serious writer can attest, writing is more like sitting in an arid classroom, forcing myself to concentrate when I would rather be somewhere else hanging out with friends.
But there was that one time.
I was drinking my morning coffee when a picture appeared to me of a woman working in her garden and looking up to see Lucy Maud Montgomery, deceased author of Anne of Green Gables, watching her.
The image was so compelling that I snatched up my notebook and pen and began writing – yes, as though taking dictation. I had no idea where this was coming from, only that it was the most powerful experience of my writing life. After several pages, the images and dialogue stopped.
At the time, I didn’t know what it was about, only that it was important, and that it was a gift. I prayed for more inspiration, but it was not forthcoming. It was as though God said, “I gave you this much. You have to do the rest.”
Does it seem strange to believe that God would take an interest in an artist’s work? The practical side of me is tempted to think so. Then I remember that the Creator God cannot be contained or defined by our human parameters or understanding. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wants. You hear the sound of it, but can’t tell where it’s coming from or where it’s going” (John 3:8).
I am called to be creative. It’s how I experience God and how God shows up in me.
In the movie Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis says, “We read to know we’re not alone.” I would add that we write for the same reason. We send our voices out into the universe to see if anyone will echo back. In the process, we learn more about ourselves and about the Author and Finisher of our faith.
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Over the next two decades, I pursued that initial picture of L.M. Montgomery and the woman in the garden in my novel Maud and Me. In it, I gave voice to many of the issues I have struggled with in my Christian journey: depression, sexism and the culture shock of coming from a background rich in the arts into the evangelical world.
When I was a new Christian, I had often felt like Alice in Wonderland, encountering viewpoints that it was comfortably assumed all we insiders shared. A general distrust of the arts and artists, devaluing of women (often by other women), a view that those who suffered brought it on themselves and were not therefore our concern – these attitudes disconcerted me. At the same time, I was not brave enough to challenge them, fearing being labelled a troublemaker and dismissed.
I felt like a citizen of two worlds, both equally true. I loved Jesus and was passionate about serving Him. I did not doubt the truth of the Scriptures. The Church was my home. At the same time, I resonated to the truths expressed in theatre, novels, story. The arts expressed the universal human experiences with more accuracy and honesty than could be found in an average church meeting, where pain was glossed over, and every problem was tied up neatly with a bow in twenty minutes.
It took a midlife crisis for me to learn that I was not on God’s “dubious” list for my outsider views. What a relief it was to discover that God had created me to be an artist because it was His good pleasure! He did not see the Christian world and the arts as two alien realities, but as integrated. Nor did He create me female in order that my voice should be silenced.
In following the person of L.M. Montgomery through the writing of Maud and Me, I studied her journals, published 50 years after her death. I learned that Maud, although a successful and famous author, spent her days as a Presbyterian minister’s wife in rural communities, where her ability to make lemon pie was of more importance than her “scribbling.” She struggled with depression which she was forced to conceal behind a cheerful façade before her husband’s congregation. The strain of loneliness, losses and longing for a “kindred spirit” with whom she could be real exacted a heavy cost on her mental and physical health.
In Maud and Me, I saw her appearing to Nicole, a disaffected young minister’s wife and painter living in northern Ontario. In their secret visits, they commiserate and laugh together over the frustrations and foibles of church-ianity and their appointed roles in it. Their friendship gives Nicole courage to search for the God who loves artists and other misfits.
Psalm 18:19 came to have profound meaning to me during my crisis. “He brought me out into an open place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (NASB). God invites us to meet Him in the open places, not the enclosed walls of conformity and control. It is in those open places that we encounter the Mystery who never stops creating, never stops making all things new.
Marianne Jones’s novel Maud and Me (Crossfield, 2021) won the best book of the year award for fiction (and best specialty book) from The Word Guild on Sept. 17 (thewordguild.com/the-word-awards-winners-finalists).