All authors have themes running through their work. We can’t help it. Our minds seem to follow certain trajectories and focus on ideas that are of particular importance to us.
My major themes are faith, hope, and love. They show up in the Saint Maggie series and in HEART SOUL & ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.
As I’ve said before, just like the 1860s, our world today is rough. We are surrounded by anger, hate, violence, and division, and so feel threatened emotionally, physically, existentially. We want to lash out, punch back. But that is not a good strategy, at least as far as I’m concerned.
I have 25+ years serving in ministry in the United Methodist Church. Trust me when I say this: given my druthers, I would not have gone into it on my own. But God is a huge noodge, so there you are and here I am.
So, you won’t be surprised when I say that my major themes are faith, hope, and love.
Don’t click away quite yet (*sigh* religion again…). You don’t have to be religious to have faith. You can place your faith in a philosophy or a way or life. You can place your faith in your loved ones. You can place your faith in your dog. I mean it. After eleven years with my dog Tippy, I know exactly what to expect from her. When I take her to the church office, she hangs out in my vicinity. Often, she’ll place herself between me and the rest of the room. If I walk out of the room, she follows. The pastor I work with says that although Tippy is a very sweet dog, he has no doubt that she would do everything in her power to protect me. I have confidence that she would.
When I was at seminary, one of my professors said that “faith” should not be understood to mean something you believe, but rather something you do, i.e. “faithing.” Today I checked out the definition of “faith” at www.dictionary.com, and the first definition is indeed “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” My professor was not wrong. Faith is confidence or trust.
Just as in real life, characters in a novel place their trust or have confidence in things that help them get through. Given who I am, most of my characters operate out of the mindset that there is a God. For instance, Maggie and Emily put their trust in a God that they believe exists and cares, and that confidence finds its support in the Bible. But just because they have faith doesn’t mean life is easy and predictable.
In the first book in my historical fiction series, a scandal erupts, and Maggie Blaine Smith feels the absence of God where she once had felt close. However, she trusts that God is there and still prays even though she gets no answer.
Emily operates in much the same way. As noted in an earlier blog, during a time of crisis in A TIME TO HEAL, she maintains confidence that God will work to help them and reminds Maggie:
“Jesus promised that the Holy Ghost would give us the right words. We’ve got to hold Jesus to that promise. He knows what we’re going through. He’s been there. He died. But, praise God, he rose. That means God wins, Maggie, sometimes even if it seems otherwise.”
And then there’s Eli, Mr. Doubt. In WALK BY FAITH, he returns to Gettysburg to find that a chasm has been created between himself and Maggie, who also has suffered a terrible trauma. Not knowing what else to do, he retreats to the cellar, lights a lamp, and sits down.
He took a deep breath, exhaled, and repeated the process two more times. He sat quietly before he said to the air, “Here is my dilemma. I have catawamptiously destroyed my wife’s trust. I left the love of my life undefended in this town. I wanted to be Horace Greeley, but my newspaper skills would only fill the tip of his pinky finger. My selfish desires have caused all manner of catastrophe for the ones I love.”
He fell silent and sat watching the flame in the lantern flicker orange and yellow and white.
Maggie believed in God. She had faith in Jesus. She saw the Holy Spirit at work in her life. But there were many times Eli just wasn’t sure there was a God, let alone a Trinity. He sensed there was Light out there, something bigger than himself, bigger than his dreams and his desires. His Friends upbringing had taught him it was necessary to sit patiently and wait for Light. And he intended to do just that.
“I don’t know if I want forgiveness from you,” he said to whatever might be listening, “because that’s your business and your prerogative. But I want my wife’s forgiveness. My life won’t make much sense without it. And I want her to heal from this terrible ordeal. I need to know what I should do.”
In Eli’s case, his trust is like a courting dance. Sometimes he makes the approach and sometimes Someone Else appears to do it. And this dance continues throughout the series.
As for Lins in HEART SOUL, our contemporary heroine faces a life choice. Dealing with mid-life crisis, she wonders if perhaps she is being called to leave parish ministry after ten years. Was that a “yes” answer when Neil, front man for the Grim Reapers, asks her to join his band? How does she know it’s a “yes”? What if she is misinterpreting things? Early on, she finds her talking to Drew, the senior pastor. Lins starts things off by saying:
“So if being with a band is a ministry, how do I know if I’m really called to it? Maybe I’m just nostalgic for my college band days.”
“Well, that’s the tough part. Making a change requires the faith to make that change, doesn’t it?”
The phone rang. Through the door, I could hear the muffled sound of Sue’s voice as she picked up.
“You mean, I’ve got to believe it’s the right thing,” I said.
“Or trust God with something you wouldn’t normally do.”
“Good grief, Drew, I’d be crazy to join Neil’s band!”
“Maybe.” He smiled. “But God has called people to do crazier things…”
Throughout the book, Lins dilemma is, “Do I trust God enough to go in a very different direction in my life? Do I trust that it will lead to something good?”
That is what it’s all about. Whenever we make a big change in our lives or work to create change in our workplace, neighborhood, or country, we need confidence that it will lead to something good, something better. Without faith, we’d be frozen solid, fearful of making a mistake and having things not turn out the way we’d hope. Or perhaps we’d end up acting on every impulse without much thought. As I see it, it could go either way.
Faith is essential when we need to make a move. And so, it is one of my main themes.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder