Not The Target Market

Anne of Green Gables

It is Lent and the only book I’ve been reading is the diary of St. Faustina.  Still, I don’t want to neglect my book posts and leave the impression that after that spate of reviews on taking to the Maine wilderness (which doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all given the present circumstances), I had nothing left.  Far from it.  But the books I have earmarked all need re-reading and I’m focused on other things at the moment.

There is, however, a book post I’ve been wanting to write which doesn’t involve any re-reading. I want to comment on one line from Anne of Green Gables. This line leapt out at me when, about a year ago, and probably for the first time as an adult, I re-read the Anne canon.

Marilla has just asked Anne if she said her prayers the night before, and when Anne confessed she hadn’t, Marilla tells Anne that she is “a very bad little girl.”  Anne responds with:

“You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair … People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is.  Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red ‘on purpose’, and I’ve never cared about Him since.  And anyhow I’d always be too tired at night to bother saying prayers.  People who have to look after twins can’t be expected to say their prayers.  Now, do you honestly think they can?”

When Marilla gets over being staggered and tells Anne that she will have to say her prayers if she is going to stay at Green Gables, Anne replies that she would do anything to oblige Marilla and asks what she should say.  The story continues:

She (Marilla) had intended to teach Anne the childish classic, “Now I lay me down to sleep.”  But she had, as I have told you, the glimmerings of a sense of humor – which is simply another name for a sense of the fitness of things; and it suddenly occurred to her that that simple little prayer, sacred to white-robed childhood lisping at motherly knees, was entirely unsuited to this freckled witch of a girl who knew and cared nothing about God’s love, since she had never had it translated to her through the medium of human love.” (emphasis mine)

That line has haunted me for over a year, both for its common sense and also as an accusation.  Who have I failed by not translating God’s love?

The Anne books are supposedly written for children and young adults.  I read Anne for the first time at 12, but the whole Anne of Green Gables industry hadn’t had been born then.  Anne of Green Gables was just another ‘old fashioned’ story about a girl more or less my own age.   Now, I think, children are discovering Anne much earlier, and that bold line above is going to go right over their heads (as it went over mine) as they gallop along in the Green Gables’ adventures.

That line really belongs in an adult bestseller, but I imagine Anne would not make that list, even though adults do admit to enjoying the stories.  I suspect that in looking at what trends these days, Anne is too “good;” her world is too “perfect;” the stories are too “sweet;” they don’t speak to today’s “problems.”  Which is, of course, all nonsense.  Lack of love is a huge problem, not the least because lack of love leads to lack of God.

Anne’s world had been, up until she met Marilla and Matthew, purely utilitarian.  She was tolerated, but not loved, and only wanted as long as she was useful.  That’s a rather dreadful lesson for anyone, but particularly dreadful for a child.

Unconditional love and therefore God’s love – goes against our broken utilitarian leaning. Tit for tat; how much is it worth; how much will it cost me?  These are all actions we weigh every day – turning love into a transactional thing.  How can we even begin to fathom God’s unconditional love unless we first see it in action in others?

When Marilla asked Anne if she knew who God was, Anne recited: “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in His being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”  God, for her, had been reduced to list of mere words with no connection to anything she was living.  She had heard plenty of words about God, but seen no action – seen no love in her life given directly to her with no expectation of a payback, so how could she connect the love of others to the love of God?  It all remained abstract.

Anne was not the useful boy Marilla and Matthew had wanted.  Anne knew this and expected to be sent back to the orphanage or to be given to someone else who could make use of her.  Marilla and Matthew did the unexpected, made other arrangements for farm help and took Anne in anyway. This was the first glimmer of unconditional love in Anne’s life.

How many times have we – have I – heard “Love is an action – a verb – not a feeling”?  And yet while I could recite that phrase as glibly as Anne could recite her catechism, it was reading since she had never had it translated to her through the medium of human love that exploded in my head.

I guess we all hear God’s voice in at different times and in different ways – even if He’s been speaking all along.  And that’s my book post for Lent.

But here is a P.S.:  When life is stressful, and my nerves are jangled, I need to read about goodness and kindness and beauty.  Shallowness and edginess are banished.  I don’t need to add to my racing heart with adventure, or my sense of dread with suspense, or any shadow of hopelessness with a bit about dystopia.  So, if you want a good and kind (and very funny) story about a quarantine, read The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham’s.  You can find it in Chronicles of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery.

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