Devotions with Dickens

September 21, 2020 by

Devotions with Dickens

Long before I knew about hair shirts and peas in pilgrims’ shoes, I developed my own plea to God. As a child I performed the potent “pillow” prayer. Each night I put my head under my pillow and prayed in earnest entreaty all my fears, doubts, and wishes. I prayed for as long as possible – until I could no longer hold my breath. The longer I managed to stay under, the more effective my prayer. What a childlike yet flawed understanding of God – how delicious the liberation of breath and air!

Life has slowly taught me that I cannot bamboozle God with an ascetic existence of penitence and devotion. Indeed, prayers are not answered because of righteous achievements or attempts at piety. No, if there is the light and life of God in each breath I take, it is because of his love, and his Spirit found in my fellow human beings. When devotion is at a low ebb, I do well to call to mind Amy Dorrit, the selfless heroine of the Marshalsea, and remember that warm friendships mitigate fears; helping a harassed mother restores faith; and a smile or wave in a waiting room is encouragement. That is on holy days. Otherwise, Betsey Trotwood is my guide, and I unleash my frustrations on the world: “Let me see you ride a donkey over my green again and as sure as you have a head upon your shoulders I’ll tear your bonnet off, and tread upon it!” There is virtue in genuineness too.

Like an oppressive cushion, shelf loads of religious books claim to be roadmaps, guides, how-tos and must-reads for the sincere Christian. Much of modern devotional literature aspires to reach God, yet I find it at best boring, at worst misguided (or childlike yet flawed!). It is high time Christians emerge from the suffocating pillow of devotional Christian literature for a burst of joyful oxygen. Believers would do well to exchange many of these books for the characters and stories immortalized by Charles Dickens.

New to Charles Dickens? Editor Gina Dalfonzo has pulled together a wonderful selection. You will be astonished at his fictional characters and the insights into God that they reveal. You will hate the devil in the villain, and champion the angel in the sinner. You will know redemption and the meaning of grace. Indeed, as the title implies, you will come to feel and know the Gospel through his writings – not in feel-good prose, but in people: Fagin, Darnay, Fezziwig, Miss Havisham… I must stop and let you find the rest.

So if you ever feel a pang of guilt for enjoying a cracking good read from a literary genius over sub-par devotional literature, don’t. Pick up The Gospel in Dickens, and let that literary genius lead you to a deeper devotion… hair shirt optional.

Editor’s Note:

If you’re a Dickens fan, you’ll want to know… on September 22, at 7:30 pm, you’re invited to spend an online evening with Gina Dalfonzo as she launches The Gospel in Dickens, her contribution to Plough’s Gospel in Great Writers series. She’ll be joined by Karen Swallow Prior, who wrote the book’s foreword, and Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Bookstore, who hosts the discussion. All attendees will be entered in a drawing for 5 free books! Sign up here for the online event and book draw.


About the author

Dori Moody holding a cat

Dori Moody

Dori Moody lives at the Fox Hill Bruderhof in New York, with her husband Henry and their children.

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