For being a story packed with things that could [quite plausibly] have been antagonistic or offensive, (the roles of religion, sex, and other beliefs and needs,) the book is surprisingly gentle, warm, and embracing. Well, from my point of view at least. I'm curious to see how it would hit others.**
Haruf uses beautifully fleshed out characters to explore the gap between our ideas and our actions. What is good? What is bad? Why? Do we believe (and live by) the ideas we profess? What do our words and actions show our priorities to be?
This passage addresses what very well may be the crux of the problem:
People don't want to be disturbed. They want assurance. They don't come to church on Sunday morning to think about new ideas or even the old important ones. They want to hear what they've been told before, with only some small variation on what they've been hearing all their lives, and then they want to go home and eat pot roast and say it was a good service and feel satisfied.
I am a Christian because I believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings. The point and purpose is to improve my life and those around me by changing my actions to align with his. This takes thought. This takes action. This takes making difficult choices and challenging my built-in thought processes. These are good things. What on earth is the point of floating around in a little bubble of platitudes? Why bother with the tremendous effort of keeping up appearances when you could be getting all the benefits that come with actually living out your beliefs?
Benediction represents one of the larger reasons I love to read. It expands my horizons and exposes me to different ideas that I can bounce off my own—it allows me to see the world through different eyes and prevents me from becoming complacent. I loved the complexity of the characters, the beautiful simplicity of the writing, the way it pulled me through in a few hours' time. The characters seem to belong to their setting in the way that Willa Cather's are one with theirs: without effort, but with a vitality that makes the story that much more real.
* It wasn't me who put it there. Rather, my husband, himself inflamed at my griping, tore it from my hands and fed it to the fishes. True story.
** It got me thinking. Why wasn't Benediction offensive to me when Flight Behavior was? In a way, they both took a small town setting to address some big issues...yet Flight Behavior felt smug and preachy, while Benediction felt compassionate and peaceful. The subject of Flight Behavior (global warming) isn't as personal to be as the subject of Benediction (beliefs etc) so it seems that my reaction should be opposite...unless Benediction was in fact written with more respect, more peace, more compassion. I'm compelled to think it must be so.