“She’s glad to be a Christian and would be one, even if she could get to heaven without it.” Anne Shirley, the heroine of Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book, Anne of Green Gables, speaks those words. If a novel written in 1908 for young girls, isn’t the first place you’d think of looking for theological insights, think again.
One summer I made the pilgrimage to Ms. Montgomery’s home in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. Thousands of people from all over the world, flock annually to Canada’s smallest province to learn more about this international celebrity. I read several Montgomery biographies after my visit to her birthplace, and discovered what an important role religion played in her life. Anne of Green Gables is her most famous story. It is about a young orphan girl who finds a happy home with an elderly woman and her brother. Its text contains some interesting comments about Christianity.
“She’s glad to be a Christian”, is Anne’s remark after being introduced to the wife of her church’s new minister. Anne finds Christians a rather melancholy lot, until she meets this cheerful young woman. It’s refreshing for her to encounter someone who is serious about their faith, but also takes such delight in living, and finds real joy in her relationships with others.
Anne believes Jesus was cheerful too. She sees a picture called Christ Blessing Little Children, and wishes the artist hadn’t painted Jesus looking so mournful. “I don’t believe he looked that sad” says Anne, “or the children would have been afraid of him.” Anne envisions Christ as someone who enjoyed his life and found happiness in his interactions with others.
Followers of Jesus would do well to consider her insights. Embracing life with positive enthusiasm and treating others with genuine warmth, is perhaps the best way to be ambassadors of our faith.
“If I were a man I think I’d be a minister”, Anne declares. She goes on to say that she’d be sure to pick short, snappy texts for her sermons and preach with some imaginative creativity. Lucy Maud Montgomery created her lively red- headed character in the early 1900’s when there were no female clergy. How brilliant to use her novel as a way to explore the possibility of women behind the pulpit. Anne goes on to ask ” Why can’t women be ministers?” She says if any work needs to be done in the church from fundraising to meal preparation, the ladies of the congregation carry out the task with energy and success. Why couldn’t they preach too?
Although many denominations have realized the importance of working towards gender equity in their clergy, there are still some churches where female pastors are not welcomed. They might do well to read Anne of Green Gables.
“I don’t think its fair for the teacher to ask all the questions. There were lots of questions I wanted to ask”. Anne makes this observation after her first experience in a Sunday school class. It’s a comment worthy of serious consideration.
Churches should be places where people feel comfortable asking lots of questions. Adolescents, in particular, need to know they will not be chided or admonished when expressing their doubts and concerns about doctrine or practice. Their curiosity must be affirmed, their inquires treated with respect, and their search for a meaningful faith experience encouraged.
“If I really wanted to pray, I’d go into a great big field. I’d lie down and look up into that lovely sky, that looks like there’s no end to its’ blueness and then I’d just feel a prayer.” Anne makes that observation when she is trying to think of a way to address God and isn’t sure what to say.
Have we forgotten the kind of spiritual renewal that can come from observing creation, imprisoned as we are in our offices during the day and at home in front of television and computer screens at night? If we’re having trouble praying perhaps we need to step outside. “Feeling a prayer” might come naturally while observing the splendid fall colors on a crisp morning walk, or doing a little star gazing in our backyard on a warm autumn night. One particularly beautiful day Anne says, “The world looks like something God imagined for his own pleasure.” I think God imagined it for our pleasure and contemplation too.
Lucy Maud Montgomery is a remarkable and gifted author whose work contains some perceptive observations about Christianity. It is good to know that as people around the world read this famous Canadian’s books, they will not only be entertained, but will be prompted to think more deeply about religious faith as well.
Anne of Green Gables – A Theology Primer