Faith in literature


Here are some thoughts, including left-field ones, from fictional works which might inform ministerial practice.

Thrawn Janet, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

This disturbing supernatural tale of alienation, possession and death by a Scottish master of the genre nonetheless contains important themes. The Reverend Murdoch Soulis, ordained and inducted as an energetic, bright and scholarly young Minister of the parish of Balweary in south-west Scotland stands up to the culture and practice of the villagers in defending Janet. The sighting of a tall, black stranger in the graveyard leads Murdoch Soulis to a grisly discovery which changes his life, ministry and preaching for the rest of his career.

The tale raises questions of enthusiasm and erudition (the minister has many books, far more than his predecessors, and seems constantly to be involved in writing one, too); yet Janet acclaims, ‘You’re no’ wise, Meenister!’ Where are the sources of widsom for ministry? The tale starts with an account of injustice and the minister’s role in seeking the defence of the rights of those with little voice against the powerful characters in the village. What is the role of the minister in promoting justice, and to what extent is personal involvement necessary or wise? Without giving the tale away, the minister’s encounters leave him permanently scarred, perhaps with what we might now call PTSD. How do ministers ensure sufficient self-care? Finally, his preaching is indelibly affected by his experience, perhaps to the detriment of exposition for which he was initially well-known. How do our life experiences enhance our preaching, and in what ways might they subvert it?

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