Jesus and Jane Austen: The Faith and Witness of the Greatest Romantic Novelist

The following was a presentation I gave to a Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) Zone Rally hosted at Village Lutheran Church in Ladue, Missouri, on March 25, 2023.

Good morning! Thank you so much for inviting me to talk to you today at the Zone Rally. It’s a real pleasure to get to spend this time with so many new and familiar faces while talking about a subject very near and dear to my heart.

I want to give a brief “spoiler warning”: there is really no way to talk coherently about Jane Austen and her novels without discussing their plots. Also, the books have been out for over two hundred years. So, apologies in advance if I reveal a pivotal plot point of a book of hers you have not yet read.

When you think of Jane Austen, of whom do you next think? There are many fine persons, to be sure: Elizabeth and Darcy, Anne and Captain Wentworth; Elinor and Edward; Marianne and Colonel Brandon; Emma and Knightley; Catherine and Tilney; maybe even shy Fanny and Edmund. There’s also Wickham, Willoughby, and Frank Churchill; Mrs. Bennet; Mr. Woodhouse; Sir Elliot. Perhaps you think instead of Kiera Knightley, Anya Taylor-Joy, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matthew MacFadyen, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, or, if you’re like my husband, “Severus Snape” and “Hans Gruber,” also known as the late Alan Rickman.

My guess, though, is that you do not associate Jesus with Jane Austen. Austen is generally not conceived of as a “Christian author” by her readers or by literary scholars. In fact, many English literature academics cast aspersions on the seriousness of her faith altogether. Her work, praised for its incisive and hilarious realism, is not moralizing, or at least not as moralizing as the unapologetically didactic Little Women, for example. Nor does her work ever really deal with theological topics: we get no sense of Anglican teachings on the Sacraments or Jane Austen’s views on the liturgy, say, within the pages of her works.

This morning, I am going to try to convince you that Jane Austen is, nevertheless, best understood as a Christian author—really, I think, only fully understood as a Christian author. We’ll begin with a very brief survey of Jane’s life, then move to a discussion of the major Christian themes in her works, and end with a reflection on why those themes might be particularly helpful, comforting, and edifying today.

Jane Austen was born to George Austen and Cassandra Leigh Austen in 1775. She was the sixth of eight children, the second of two daughters. Jane’s origins were not nearly as dreamy and idealized as her later novels; life was harsh. Jane had an older brother who was special needs of some kind—we don’t know for sure what his diagnosis would be today, but he never lived with the family and was more-or-less forgotten by them. The family, like most middle-class English families at the time, sent their babies to be raised by poor women in town until they were old enough to talk and be more independent. Jane’s father was a country parson and farmer in the Anglican church, and was rather poor, though this did not stop two of her brothers following him into the ministry. It is likely, therefore, that Jane’s life was punctuated by the rhythms and rites of the church year. In fact, Jane Austen wrote several very nice prayers, one of which is included in at least one contemporary edition of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. Jane’s parents ran a boys’ school from their home, which, together with her many brothers, meant she grew up surrounded by young men and their society. Her juvenile writing also attests to this fact: some of her earliest works feature a boyish interest in gore, alcohol, and dark humor, though she seemed to grow out of this and turn her pen towards more domestic tales.

Jane had one sister, Cassandra, who was two years her senior. Both Jane and Cassandra were, sadly, “unlucky in love.” Cassandra was engaged for a six years to a young man named Tom Fowle who tragically died in 1797 while, in an attempt to save up enough money to marry her, he pursued his fortune in the West Indies. The twenty-four-year-old elder Miss Austen never recovered from the loss. Scarcely two years earlier, Jane herself had a whirlwind romance with the twenty-year-old Irish law student Tom Lefroy. At eighteen, she was the age Cassandra had been when she became engaged. It seems that Jane—and others in the neighborhood—expected a similar dénouement to the flirtation. But, tragically, it was not to be: though there is ample evidence that the two loved one another (though, to be fair, this entire episode was elapsed in the course of a few weeks), after the Christmas of 1795, Tom and Jane never saw each other again. Tom would go on to marry a much wealthier young woman, with whom he had seven children. Jane, along with her sister Cassandra, experienced something of an “early-onset spinsterhood,” losing all interest in courtship and adopting rather “mature” ways of acting and dressing. The pair seem to have confused their immediate and extended family: plenty of women are jilted in love in their late teens or early twenties, but most of them (both in Jane Austen’s England and today) recover and move on to a more successful romance and marriage. But Jane never did, and perhaps it was this brief but intense experience of lost love that brought such poignancy and insight to her writing. She remained a spinster, living with family, until she died in 1817 at the far-too-young age of forty-one.

As to her writing: in the course of Jane’s life, she wrote six complete novels. Several works of juvenile fiction and two unfinished novels also exist, perhaps most famously Sanditon, which has been “completed” by several authors and is now a BBC miniseries airing on PBS. She wrote Pride and Prejudice first in 1797 at age twenty, although it did not appear in print for another sixteen years, in 1813, when she was thirty-seven. It had been extensively edited in-between, as she likewise did with Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey, which she also wrote early in life but published later. Sense and Sensibility was the first to be published, in 1811; Northanger Abbey was published in 1814. Her other three novels came afterward: Emma (1815), and Mansfield Park and Persuasion (both 1817), posthumously.

Also, just as an aside, I think that some Austen scholars see Jane as being irreligious, or at least not very interested in church, in part because of some of the things she says in her correspondence with her sister. I’ll be honest with you: she can be pretty mean. She makes jokes that are harsh, unkind, or just downright inappropriate. In fact, Cassandra destroyed most of her letters, and it is likely that she did this to hide her younger sister’s acid pen. She definitely did not always put the best construction on her neighbor’s actions. (In fairness, I hope that I will not be judged after my death by my text messages or emails—a sentiment to which I’m sure most, if not all, of us could agree.)

Jane Austen is credited with more-or-less inventing the genre of romantic comedy. (The comedy element does not always come through in the film adaptations, in my opinion, and it is subtle, a comedy of manners, and so a good annotated copy can help with really understanding all the ins-and-out of why everyone finds Mrs. Bennet so embarrassing, or why it’s so important whether or not Lydia and Wickham are actually going to Scotland.) The romances in them are decently predictable: the story follows the heroine along with her male love interest, his rival, her rival, and usually an ensemble of funny, rude, and/or embarrassing friends, neighbors, and family members. There is usually a clergyman or someone training to become one; sometimes he is pious and moral, or else he is self-righteous and scheming. Money and status figure prominently. There is little, if anything, outlandish or fanciful. The plot typically involves, to greater or lesser degrees of complexity, the heroine meeting her love interest and his rival, experiencing some kind of conflict or confusion, facing some sort of trial or scandal, growing and maturing as a person, and, finally, ending up with the hero, while the immoral or selfish characters get, more or less, their just desserts. To quote Oscar Wilde, “The good end happily, and that bad unhappily; that is what fiction means.” Jane Austen’s six completed novels fit into this broad overview well, though they are each unique, highlighting some different element of the dangers of love, the importance of family, friends, and neighbors, and the virtues (and vices) of women.

There are a number of Christian themes in Jane Austen’s work. To go through them all in a systematic way would be the work of a dissertation, not an LWML Zone Rally talk. But for our purposes, I think there are two really important Christian themes in Jane’s novels: repentance and sanctification. I think that these are two of the most important markers of the Christian life, and so it makes sense that Jane Austen would in her writing spend so much time on these two aspects of life in Christ.

The first of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[1] I believe that Jane Austen would heartily agree with this thesis: her books are all people repenting—identifying sin and seeking repentance. Pride and Prejudice is perhaps the most obvious (The title of the book is, after all, the two sins of which the two main characters must repent!). Emma also underscores the importance of repentance, as Emma is perhaps the Austen heroine who embarrasses herself the most and whose repentant visit to Miss Bates is (deservedly!) humiliating. Sense and Sensibility is a little more nuanced: the repentant Willoughby coming to Marianne’s sickbed is, to my knowledge, either omitted or glanced over by every film and television adaptation of the novel that I know of—likely because the screenwriters don’t really know what to do with that pivotal and challenging—even uncomfortable—part of the story.

The repentant actions of Jane Austen’s characters are, truly, always uncomfortable. Repentance is uncomfortable. And Jane Austen always makes her characters repent to one another: they pursue reconciliation, the restoration of relationships. The morally immature characters—the Mrs. Bennets and the Mr. Woodhouses, the Lydias, Miss Grays, and Sir Elliots—are the ones who never repent, who never try to restore equanimity to their relationships by admitting wrong and seeking forgiveness. Perhaps because this repentance is usually interpersonal, rather than expressly in prayer or between the character and his or her pastor, this repentant “turn” that Austen’s characters make in the course of her works is viewed more in the vein of general character development versus a distinctly Christian moral element in her writing. Nevertheless, the way the characters speak about repentance is explicitly, undeniably Christian: the self-effacing, humble humor, the willingness to forgive. Additionally, Austen very often places forgiveness at the heart of matrimony, most especially with Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion. These marriages only occur because of great, two-sided repentance, and I don’t think that’s an accident.

Along with repentance, Jane Austen also often features the role of sanctification in the life of the Christian. Sanctification can be a tricky topic for us Lutherans, but I think it’s an important one. Sanctification is simply that process that all Christians experience, whereby we become more aware of our sins and, enlivened by Christ dwelling in us and by His Holy Spirit, we strive (imperfectly) to curb our sinful tendencies. Unlike justification, which happens at the cross and is delivered through the means of grace and, therefore, is unchanging, constant, and the same for all Christians, sanctification is a bit different. Sanctification happens in different ways for different people, even at different times in our lives. We may struggle with one set of sins, learn one set of hard lessons, and strive towards one set of virtues as young people, and find a whole different set of sins, lessons, and virtues as young adults or in middle age; or as single women versus married women, women without children and women with children, and so on. Men and women themselves usually struggle with and strive towards different things—something I would like to return to at the end of our time today.

My husband, Jonathan, really likes the late Roman Catholic bishop, radio and television personality, and theologian Fulton Sheen. I think he has some interesting thoughts on sanctification. Here’s what he has to say (and those of you present for Wednesday’s midweek service may notice some familiar points):

“There’s a cross that’s at the very center human life. No man is ever really happy on the inside until he is at war with himself—at war with that which is base and would destroy his Godward tendencies, as our Lord said, ‘I came not to bring peace but the sword.’ Not the sword that points and thrusts outward to destroy the neighbor, but the sword that thrusts inward to destroy one’s egotism and one’s lust and one’s avarice, and all the things that destroy also a peace of mind.”[2]

As Christians, we take the sword Christ spoke of and turn it inward—not to condemn our neighbor, but with it identifying and rooting out sin. This is a never-ending process. We will never, of course, stop sinning—but we should try to sin less, or at least hurt other people with our sins less. Consider the great heroines of Jane Austen: they all repent of their sins, ask forgiveness, and turn from the sin. Elizabeth is very shamed by the revelations of Darcy’s real sufferings and character, so much so that she resolves to never pre-judge or fall prey to nasty rumors again. Emma is so disgusted with herself after humiliating Miss Bates in front of all of their friends that she resolves to never again allow herself to be egged on to low meanness and disdain for someone less fortunate or less socially successful ever again. After losing Wentworth the first time, Anne Elliot strives to be master of her own heart, instead of allowing the selfishness and schemes (even those at least in part well-meant) to sway her judgment. Marianne and Elinor learn, in their own ways, to temper the excesses in their natures. Catherine Morland learns to live in the real world, not fantastic books, and even shy Fanny Price musters the courage to stand up for what her conscience tells her to be right, even in the face of extreme social pressure.

So, with all this in mind, how can people think that Jane Austen isn’t a Christian author? To be sure, Jane Austen doesn’t come out and say any of this. You might not get this from watching most film adaptations, eithers, since so much has been simplified or cut, or, frankly, not fully understood by the filmmakers. Jane Austen is not theological, as I said earlier: in her novels, Austen doesn’t wax lyrical on the eucharist or the efficacy of baptism. She is very pragmatic: her lessons are about heartache, not heresy; unhappy marriages, not incorrect doctrine. These themes, too, are practical: repentance and sanctification are always presented within a social context, apologizing to the person whom you harmed; striving to be better to the people to whom you have previously been bad. Jane’s treatment of Christianity is certainly on the more “horizontal,” man-to-man or woman-to-woman level, but that doesn’t make her any less Christian of an author.

What does Jane Austen, then, have to say to us today? There are certainly many issues that Austen treats that are familiar to us: bickering families, selfish, scheming people, and pre- or extra-marital sex all appear in her pages and in our lives. We will probably have far more incidents in our lives that remind us of a scene from a Jane Austen novel than we will from, say, Jurassic Park or Game of Thrones. But I think there’s something more than just her knack for understanding awkward social interactions or slightly-dysfunctional family life. There is a great deal of confusion in our contemporary world: sex, marriage, friendship, and family are all a good bit more complicated today than they were in Austen’s time. We can’t expect her to write about circumstances she could never have experienced or predicted—but she can help answer the perennial questions surrounding the role and vocation of women in marriage, family, and society. In short, while some people in this world are asking “What is a woman?”, there are a great number of women—especially within our own families and churches—asking “What is a good woman—and how can I be one?”, and Jane Austen does help us answer that question.

In retrospect, I think this is what drew me to Jane Austen. I first read an Austen novel at age fifteen, during the summer between ninth and tenth grade. Up until this point I had been a tomboy par excellence—the girl with the very short cropped hair who only wore jeans and t-shirts, hated anything romantic, read “boy” books, listened to “boy” music, did well at “boy” subjects in school. I wasn’t a tree climbing tomboy, I was an art class tomboy, but even my drawing interests were, for the most part, boyish. I was a “late bloomer,” profoundly uncomfortable in my own skin, and felt like a freak alongside other girls for very silly reasons. And, of course, at fifteen, I didn’t realize that most other girls also felt about like I did; no, I was convinced that there was something aberrant, unlikable, and unfeminine about me because I was lanky, goofy, good at math, and a fan of British alternative rock.

I read Pride and Prejudice after catching about 45 seconds of the 2005 movie adaptation on television one night. I remember walking out of the room suddenly and explaining to my mother, “I can’t watch any more of this movie—I need to read the book first.” I spent an otherwise confusing teenage summer immersed in Jane Austen’s picturesque towns and the stunning Lake District—“What are men to rocks and mountains?” It launched a series of changes in me that I can still scarcely begin to explain: the action figures and aggressively-bright decorations in my bedroom came down in one afternoon and were gradually replaced with florals, antique store art prints, and miniature silhouettes. I grew out my hair for the first time in my life. Most importantly, I made my peace with myself after reading about characters that I liked, recognized, or admired; I saw good women, even if they were from 200 years ago, and I wanted to be like them.

I think this is so much of what Jane Austen has to offer contemporary Christian readers. We really don’t spend enough time explaining, let alone showing and celebrating, good women, women worthy of being role models—of being friends. We either become legalists, with strange and overly-stringent rules about what bars you from The Good Woman Club, or we become so lax as to become unhelpful, failing to acknowledge that, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor 6:12). But as St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). Jane Austen offers us something that is “good” and “lovely” and “commendable” upon which to think, especially as it pertains to our lives as Christian women. And this is something that we desperately need, whether we’re sixteen or sixty, and, in Jane Austen, it is presented in a way that is universally appealing to women, the gangly pubescent and the achy octogenarian alike: as a love story.

In closing, I’d like to pray with you all the portion of the prayer than Jane Austen wrote that appears now in the international edition of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

“Incline us, O God, to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves. Grant this most merciful Father, for the sake of our blessed Saviour, who hast set us an example of such a temper of forbearance and patience, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.”

Thank you.


[1] Martin Luther, “The 95 Theses,” Luther.de, https://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html.

[2] Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “How to Psychoanalyze Yourself,” approx. 24:35–25:30, https://youtu.be/k3rhPa7h4ro?t=1461.

The Need for Art in the Age of Simulation

There is a new faddish piece of tech nonsense bouncing around social media—maybe you’ve heard of it: AI “art.” I put the word “art” in scare quotes intentionally, because it is, perhaps, the furthest thing from art that one could possibly imagine. AI “art” consists of a highly advanced nodule of machine learning, into which you feed commands: Dog riding a skateboard; man with cat ears; very fast spaceship, etc., etc., etc. The algorithm then slams a bunch of pixels together into a digital object that is vaguely reminiscent of a coherent image, although only if one glaces at it with a minimal amount of attention. The slightest amount of critical vision immediately destroys the illusion. Like a corrupted file, pieces of the subject and background are missing, void, non-existent, in a way that is completely alien to the manual processes involved in creating art of any medium.

As you can probably tell, I am a bit worked up about this. I think that AI “art” is just the latest pointless waste of human talent and time, a stupid joke of art irony that somehow supersedes Duchamp’s Fountain. I also, legitimately, think that it might be analogous to the head in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength [spoilers], which is why I refuse to post any links to examples and why I physically avert my eyes when shown it in real life. But I digress.

Art is something of a sacred task. Art, conceptually, only makes sense to the rational animal, the human person, that being that has body and soul, imbued by God with the capacity and desire to create in a way that is more limited than but not dissimilar to His own divine creativity. The minute acts of creation involved in art are saturated with meaning and importance: with every word, every brush stroke, every chord, you are choosing to either honor or desecrate the incarnated universe into which we have been placed. No algorithm is capable of bearing the moral weight of creating art, let alone the complex physical and mental activity involved in translating something from the fluid and fickle physical world into the fixed and symbolic world of art.

Photo by Allan Mas on Pexels.com

What is the point of art? Art is a way that we say “Amen, amen” to God’s proclamation of the goodness of His creation (Gen 1:31). Art does not exist as a vehicle of cynicism or corrosive irony—if it were, children would not be brimming with creativity and a love of drawing, painting, sculpting, making. But we grown-ups have grown sick of God’s good world and have grown callous to our need to make and enjoy art. Our lives have become so empty of prayer that we even outsource the prayer of art—those prayers of thanksgiving, of mourning, of intercession, of hope—to the machines.

Luther famously said that “next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” I think we could expand this to art, generally, and I think we could say that, next to the Word of God, art—good, true, beautiful art—is what is most lacking from so many people’s lives. We fill our days, whether by choice or by outside compulsion, with ugliness, with kitsch, with visual and aural garbage that is meant (consciously or not) to grind man down, to dehumanize him, to make God’s calling repugnant to him. Whether it’s corporate art, muzak, obscene art, or AI “art”, it all produces the same flattening and undervaluing of human life—and it’s all around us, everywhere, all the time.

What are we to do? Return to real art. Make and enjoy real art. Do not let the faux-arts squash your fragile heart. Affirm the goodness of creation, of life, of being itself by taking out your colored pencils, going to a concert, walking to an art museum, getting back to playing piano. You cannot be replaced by a machine, no matter how advanced and technically complicated. Your being, your body and soul, your thoughts and feelings, your creative pursuits, you are redeemed by and matter to the most holy God. Your existence is a gift to you from God. Remember that by partaking again of art.

Matthias Grünewald, “The Resurrection”

Unplugged

I apologize for the quiet interlude that has befallen my blog here. The moving ordeal has proven to be longer, both in its lead-up and in its execution, and I am still working to get my desk tidied and the things cleared off my kitchen table. The past few months have been of an unexpectedly challenging nature, not a poetic melancholy but a dry thinness that defies even my best attempts to allegorize and, thus, soften it. I am slowly chipping away at a million and one humdrum things in the hopes that, soon, they will start to look cheerful again.

I have found a surprising source of solace in this season: our newfound lack of Internet access at home. Jonathan and I have just moved into a 100-year-old, 500-square-foot apartment, from which we will wage his final year of seminary. Our budget was projected to be somewhat lean, and we decided that we’d rather have the money that would otherwise be spent on Wifi on groceries, so we have decided to do without. Jonathan doesn’t much like working from home anyway, and we both thought this might encourage us to be a bit more intentional about our use of computers.

We got rid of our smartphones about a year and a half ago, which shocked us into realizing how much time in our lives we had the ability to reclaim. We figured out which burning questions that hit us on our walk through the park or our ride to church were actually burning enough that they remained with us until we got home to our computers. We’d quite enjoyed our experiences with our “dumb phones,” and so we thought this might be an interesting experiment as well.

It really has been. This is probably the least amount of Internet access that I’ve had since I was a child, whenever we got rid of dial-up. We still sometimes use the data on our phones to hotspot at home, when we need to look up an address or something, but most of our time at home is spent doing other things. This also rules out streaming music and video, but we’ve been slowly downloading or purchasing the movies, television, and music we’d like to have access to. We play the radio. We listen to CDs. I just bought an opera on vinyl. I have to plan out what I do with a lot more intentionality: I need to go to the library or get to work a few minutes early if I need to check my email. I am writing this blog post at home on my laptop, without the distraction of the trillions of bits of info on the Net, and will post it up on my blog at some chance I get tomorrow. The added thought and planning really helps make it obvious what things I really like, what I really want to spend my time on, and what I was doing just to “fill dead air.”

Perhaps more important than what has been added is what has been taken away. I was a bit nervous about telling people that we weren’t going to have Internet at our house. I imagined people’s mildly-horrified responses when, asking for the Wifi password, we informed them that there was no Wifi to be had. I was sure people would think I was a crazed Luddite, forcing my poor husband to go without. I’ve been shocked at how many people have said something along the lines of, “Wow, that sounds really nice, actually. I wish I could do that.” A friend told me her thirteen-year-old son had a reaction along those lines—a boy who is just as plugged in as any of his peers liking the idea of getting unplugged. But I think I know why. The people who want to reach me still reach me, by texting me on my cell phone (even if it is in those uncouth “green bubbles”) or calling me on my phone, or they wait until I see their iMessages on my laptop when I am once again reconnected to the World Wide Web. But work and news and all those niggling little things that have made my patience just a little more strained, my melancholy a shade or two deeper, my mind a little more addled—they have to wait until I choose to deal with them, at my leisure and on my terms. Work doesn’t follow me home because it can’t. I’m not as up-to-date on what’s going on online because I am, for the majority of my day, offline. I have no choice but to deal with the problems that are in front of me—the crate of tea that I need to unpack, the flowers I need to put in the case, the absence of the two living room reading chairs that are currently trapped in a friend’s apartment without a working elevator—and leave the problems that aren’t in front of me for another day. It’s a stark, but oh! so freeing, reminder that I am entirely limited, incapable of even keeping up with my daily chores and to-do list, let alone the everything everywhere all the time always of the Internet. 

My upstairs neighbor is exercising; I think she is doing burpees, or something like that. The fridge is making a sound kind of like a Star Trek special effect. I need to start the fan going before I get in the shower so that the bedroom is nice and cool when I go to bed in an hour. My laptop is charging, and it should be ready to go in the morning when I walk over to work in the morning and the library in the afternoon. I’ll be able to check my email and my messages then, when I have Internet connection. But until then, I’ll be here, unplugged.

Home Matters

If you’ve read this blog somewhat-regularly or if you know me in real life, you know that I’ve moved around a lot. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and moved to north Alabama my senior year of high school. I went to college in Tuscaloosa (central Alabama), grad school in St. Louis, have spent the last year in west-central Illinois while my husband does his vicarage (pastor internship), and just moved back to St. Louis a couple days ago. There’s even more “little moves” in between the main ones, too. I liked in an apartment until I was seven, then a house until I was 13, then another house until I was 17. We lived in my aunt’s house for a month when we first came to Alabama, then a house, and then my parents moved into a new house when I was 20. I lived in three different places in college (a dorm and two different apartment complexes), and am on living arrangement number three during Jonathan’s time in seminary (two years in on-campus married housing, one year in the vicarage condo, and starting one year in an off-campus apartment). I’ve moved a lot, especially in the last 10-ish years.

All of this moving has allowed me to notice something, though: nobody really seems to care about home anymore. Growing up in Southern California, in “the media capital of the world,” where there was basically an infinite number of things to do, great weather, at a school that had a lot of opportunities for students to express themselves and pursue whatever interests they had, people still complained, nearly constantly. Everybody wanted out. It wasn’t any different in Alabama, though. We had a close-knit school community, a lot of freedom to roam around, everything we wanted to do was cheap and accessible—but still, everyone could find something to complain about. Now, in St. Louis, it’s more of the same. From Burbank to Hartselle to Tuscaloosa to St. Louis, there was no real “pride of place” among a lot of the people I knew, really regardless of age.

On the one hand, I get it. For a long time, I cultivated this weird, almost Schadenfreude-esque pride in not feeling at home in places, not participating in pep rallies, not having school spirit or team pride. Sometimes it was because I was going through a rough spot socially—maybe I was stressed or lonely or felt left out. But a lot of the times, it was just a choice: a choice to be jaded and detached, to “know better”, to be different and cool and sad, to create distance through an impenetrable detachment, so that I would be less likely to be upset when something bad inevitably happened.

That attitude is a lot less appealing to me at 25 as it was at 15. I can’t keep the act up anymore—it takes too much out of me and it’s just, frankly, annoying. At the end of the day, I am a person, not a computer program or an unembodied spirit. I am bound to the specific place and time and circumstances into which God has chosen to place me. I may not always be over-the-moon about those settings—some of them are hard, unpleasant, challenging, frustrating, or just simply not what I wanted. But I’m sick and tired of making myself miserable in an attempt to avoid the inherent pain of connectedness and vulnerability. It’s not cool, it’s not better, and it’s just not worth it.

We’re in the middle of unpacking our apartment. It’s still a bit of a wreck. But Jonathan and I have both noticed that it’s starting to feel like home. It’s starting to really feel like we belong here—and that’s something we both really needed. And I think you really have to belong somewhere in order to effectively leave that place and explore the world. You can’t have a window without having a wall—you have to have a safe haven to call home to return to, recharge within, and go out from.

Math is proof that God loves us

For most of my life, most people I’ve known haven’t liked math. Whether while in school or since as a tutor, most people seem to view math as a means to an end—and usually, that end is a decent GPA or a good score on a standardized test.

As you can probably guess, I’m not one of these people. I like math. I did well in math in school. I am a big fan of Algebra, but Calculus was probably my favorite over all. I think there is something special—beautiful, even—about math, something that we never really got into in school, but something that is absolutely vital to understanding mathematics.

I had my math breakthrough in eleventh grade in my physics class. Physics was one of the hardest classes I took in high school, maybe even the hardest class. Our teacher was a small-framed German-educated Armenian man. I discovered halfway through the year that he had a doctorate in physics, but he never talked about it. He had a dry sense of humor, had a flair for the dramatic (lying on a bed of nails, donning a baseball cap to clamber onto his lab table and swing a bat around while seated in a swivel chair), and was absolutely brilliant. We jumped straight in to Newtonian physics, the science of motion and gravity, and I was blown away. (Though, to be perfectly honest, by the time we got to things moving around in circular paths and orbits, I got lost for a little while. I managed to pull through and it was pretty much smooth sailing until we got into wave-particle duality, but that’s for another blog post.)

In physics, with just a few pieces of information, I could write up an equation that would describe how a ball would move through the air when thrown, how a pendulum would swing when released, how a car would navigate a tight corner, or how a planet would journey around a star. I could understand movement—the here-and-now world around me—using numbers and arithmetic operations. Gravity, the force I felt every day without realizing it, could be represented by 9.8 m/s2, some lines and curves on a page corresponding with a force that controls everything in the physical universe.

I was also enrolled in Calculus at the time, and we ended up doing some similar things. If you gave me some information about a cannonball or a tennis ball, I could make an equation, map out the projectile’s course, and then tell you its speed and rate of acceleration along all of the points on that path. I could crystalize the fleeting movement of a game of catch onto graph paper and think of it in this orderly, numeric way.

Maybe this all sounds kind of boring to you. (Sorry, if it does.) But to me, an often-lonely, often-discouraged teenager, it meant the world. When you’re sixteen years old, it can feel like your life is just sort of happening to you, without meaning, without significance. The tiniest thing can go wrong with your day, and suddenly you’re in freefall. It can just feel so random. But math gave me a window into something orderly. Even the seemingly-random, seemingly-insignificant action of throwing a ball into the air or children playing on a seesaw is so orderly, in fact, that it can be represented by numbers, patterns, equations, and graphs. And those patterns and numbers show up again and again, across large and small scales, natural and man-made settings.

Surely, a God who makes even the speed of an acorn falling off a tree branch abide by universal rules of gravity and acceleration, surely He loves us—surely He loves me.

We know that order is good. Whether you like to get your “order fix” from watching Marie Kondo or listening to jazz or looking at flowers or dancing or doing origami, whatever you do and enjoy, there is probably some element of it that is orderly—that is mathematical, in some way. Music theory is math. The rules governing aesthetics are math. Interior design is math. And that’s not to diminish these pursuits, or to try and make them cold and inhuman. I don’t know when math became the bogeyman, some sort of robotic killjoy, but I really don’t think that’s it at all. Math is pattern and order and balance, things that we crave in all aspects of our lives. We fear chaos, disorder, dissonance, imbalance. We fear the absence of order—the absence, well, of math.

Which is why I think that a God who gives us math—who gives us a universe that is full of harmony and rhythm, of flowers and shells in perfectly repeating arches, of circles and squares and binomial pairs—that’s a God who loves us. We know that God Himself creates and delights in order: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” (1 Corinthians 14:33, New International Version). Part of our bearing the likeness of God, I think, is that this love of ordering is reflected back in us. And, in spite of our many and constant attempts to foment disorder, God continuously gives us the gift of order in many different ways. Of course, Jesus is the ultimate Restorer of the most important order we have lost—our right relationship with God, which was thrown into disorder by sin and ultimately leads to death. But Jesus, by taking upon Himself our disorderly sin and death, restores to us the original, divine order experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden, which will be fully unveiled at the end of time and the renewal of all things.

In the meantime, though, teenagers still go through blue spells, and the rest of us do, too. There is a lot of disorder and hurt out there, whether you’re sixteen or sixty, and life can really start to feel out of control at times. But it isn’t. Our God is a God of order, who loves orderliness and gives it to you in many, many ways. And that love, I think, even extends to giving us math.

Take it Slow

A lot of life has taken on a motion-blurring warp-speed pace, a quickness that belies reflection, awareness, or even just enjoyment. In some ways this is good. As I write this, I have two loads of laundry tumbling around in the hallway washer and dryer, and it’s nice to be able to multitask on chores that used to take a lot of time and energy. Sometimes I hand-wash or line-dry clothing, especially when I have a lot of time or I have garments that need special care. But sometimes I don’t, because I really need that towel dry by tonight or because I just don’t really think it’s necessary to wash my jeans in the bathroom sink. Sometimes the quickness with which we can do menial tasks is good.

But sometimes, I miss the slowness.

I’ve had electric kettles ever since I moved off to college. My freshman dorm didn’t have a stove in the unit, and the shared kitchen wasn’t on my floor. Additionally, nobody really thinks to have a nice, wholesome cup of tea at the ready in a college cafeteria. So, if I wanted my tea, I needed to make it in my dorm, and I needed to make it quickly. So, naturally, I got an electric kettle. My first apartment was a bit of an unhappy situation so far as roommates go, so I kept all my tea things in my bedroom as a way of carving out a little happy corner in which I could hide away. Again: no stove in my bedroom, so out came the electric kettle. That kettle lasted me until sometime in grad school, when it finally went kaput, and was replaced with a similar model. Both served me well and brewed many a cheerful cuppa.

But at some point in the last year, I was looking around my kitchen and feeling a little glum. I wanted a pretty kitchen, a kitchen that “sparked joy” when I went to make myself or Jonathan something to eat or drink. And it wasn’t doing that. Why?

I looked around. A lot of it was stuff I couldn’t control (I’m still in an apartment), but that wasn’t really what the problem was. Then it hit me: I wanted a happy kettle.

The electric kettle is a helpful invention. It’s great to have access to tea in settings where you can’t have a stove and a regular kettle. But it just isn’t as chipper. Sure, it’s quieter. It’s also a lot quicker. You can get really specific with your temperature settings, too, which is extra nice if you’re a tea aficionado.

But I wanted a whistle-pot. I wanted a kettle. I wanted something old and slow, something I’d have to wait on, listen for, run across the house to catch just when the top was about to blow off. I wanted to have to pay attention to my little tea time. Even if that meant having to bust out a thermometer (or just guesstimate by counting out 30 seconds or however long) for those times I wanted to make an oolong or a green tea, I wanted slow.

So I got slow. I got a little blue enamel tea pot, with a chipper little whistle when the water boils. It looks a little silly on the flat electric stove, with its bright blue color and it’s quirky, retro Scandinavian-looking handle. But it makes me smile every time I wait for it to boil. It makes my tea making a little bit more intentional, a little bit more whimsical. It makes me happy.

I think sometimes it takes going slow—or at least slower—to experience the gentle contentment of everyday life. I’m not very good at it, I’ll be the first to admit. It’s hard. It’s hard to stop and just focus on the thing in front of me and do it. It’s hard not to be buffeted about by that low-resolution anxiety that seems to permeate my day.

But—slowly—it’s getting better. It takes practice. It takes sipping on a cup while reading in the morning, playing with the cat for a few minutes uninterrupted, watching the onions and garlic caramelize without running out of the room to anxiously check email for just a quick second! And that takes patience, and time, and commitment, and self-control, and attention. But that sense of cozy, homey, very small but very real contentment comes along with it. Sometimes, it pays to take it slow.

Anniversary Reflections

Today, my husband, Jonathan, and I have been married for three years.

Jonathan and I got married about ten days before moving from our town in Alabama to St. Louis, where (two days laters) I was going to start a summer job and (two weeks later) he was going to start summer Greek for seminary. We were both going to be full-time graduate students that fall.

These first couple of years of marriage have been…non-traditional. The “broke grad student” part of that time has been probably the most normal part of it. In the course of these three years, we had to temporarily move back home during the 2020 shutdown; we’ve faced health emergencies, upsetting diagnoses, deaths in the family, and periods of heart-deep hardship. But, in all of it, I have always been so incredibly blessed to have been struggling through it with Jonathan.

I think about before Jonathan and I started dating, back when we were just friends. I remember riding shotgun in his SUV, my constant chaperone while I waited first on getting my driver’s license, then on getting a car. I remember making each other laugh so hard we cried at the absolute stupidest things imaginable, and then a few minutes later having some serious conversation about history or politics or religion. But one of the things that I remember most was the incredible feeling of safety I felt around Jonathan. I used to joke that, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I was taking myself and everybody I knew to “find Lackey.”

I still feel like that. I have always felt like that. I will always feel like that. Whether it’s been the thing going “bump” in the night or the bug on the ceiling or the copperheads in the river or the dark night of my soul, Jonathan is always there, always ready, always willing to do whatever it takes to shelter me. He so well embodies “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). I do not always do a very good job at holding up my end of that passage, but that has never stopped Jonathan from patiently, lovingly doing his part.

I love you, Jonathan. Happy anniversary.

Words of Peace and Protection: Pre-Order Now!

I am very very happy to announce that I was blessed with the opportunity to contribute to Concordia Publishing House’s Words of Peace and Protection: Devotions for Women! This wonderful devotional brings together lots of lovely ladies, each considering a different passage from the Psalms. I won’t spoil anything, but I was very pleased with my assignment, as it was a Psalm that is very close to my heart. It was a joy to work on this project, and I hope that you will find it comforting and uplifting!

The book is available for pre-order now through Amazon, and will be up soon on the CPH website, too. You can pre-order it here.

A Twenty Minute Reflection on Change

I’ve been wanting to write something here for the past several days, but I’ve been struggling to figure out what to say. So, as a reward for vacuuming, I’ve set a twenty-minute timer to just write. Let’s see what happens.

I am on day eight of a meandering stomach bug. After two days of rather intense symptoms (I will spare you), things have now subsided into waves of general discomfort and an overall lack of normal tummy behavior. My prayer is that today will be the last such day, because I hate stomach bugs. They’re just unignorable. With a fever, in a pinch, you can take an Advil or something and be on your way. Even if you can take something for a stomach bug to get to a baseline level of function, it’s really not enough. You just have to be patient and wait as your body fights it off and heals after the war. And that is no fun at all.

On the bright side, though, the weather is finally getting spring-like where we are. We had an utterly miserable winter and most of spring in central Illinois, which is the farthest north I have ever lived. Southern California and northern Alabama are both generally warm, with the obvious differences in humidity. I never realized until this year how much I rely on warm weather. I like winter, usually—I like sweaters and tea and rainy, quiet reading days inside. But so cold I can’t venture outside for a 20 minute walk? I can’t do it. (I’m sure that the car/ditch situation didn’t help my overall view of Illinois winters, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I think the tummy bug and crummy Spring have done a lot to challenge my ideas of my own mental and emotional elasticity. People talk a lot about how young people operate under delusions about the own mortality, or lack thereof. I think I also was working with the assumption that I was a lot more able to change, potentially infinitely, than I realized. I’m starting to think that human personalities are actually a lot more stable than we realize.

An at times faltering project of mine these past couple of years has been to try doing things that I enjoyed as a kid, especially things I used to do a lot or even just did casually before school got too hectic. I have not had universal success in picking things up—I would be lying if I said I didn’t have hobby books and supplies sitting on shelves that I really do intend to pick up again one of these days, despite my best self-sabotaging efforts to forget about them. But a lot of things have been good. I remember being maybe 14 or 15 and volunteering to walk our lumbering basset hound on cool rainy mornings in the spring, watching the rain fall under my huge, goofy bubble umbrella while the dog sniffed every single blade of grass on our street—and loving it. I’ve enjoyed resuming these quiet rainy (and sunny) walks with Jonathan, and noticed how much I missed them when we couldn’t over the long, bleak winter. Like I wrote the other day, getting back into reading, especially novels, has been eye-opening.

I don’t know why I stepped away from doing so many of these things. Probably just life getting busy, or getting bored, or thinking it’s a waste of time, or feeling anxious about not doing something else. But despite my conscious and unconscious efforts to change—to abandon a hobby, to get my stomach back to normal, to be okay with sub-zero windchill—I’m a lot less malleable than I thought I was.

Sometimes things just take time. Hopefully, this time next week, my tummy woes will be a quickly-fading memory. Other things, I think, are outside of time. I don’t think any amount of persisting, doggedly, in overwork or dumb forgetfulness, will take away my love of drawing. I don’t think any amount of living in a colder clime will take away my enjoyment of a springtime spent in sunshine and mild rain. And you know what? I think that’s okay.

My timer just went off, so I will leave you with that today.