Wendell Berry’s novel "Hannah Coulter" (Shoemaker Hoard, 2004) is a story of a woman who experiences the joys and sorrows of life, a story not unlike the one told in our readings today.
All stories are about place and relationships. The place? The land of Moriah where we hear the terrifying story of Isaac’s near death and the beautiful story of Abraham’s tremendous faith. The place? Somewhere in the Mediterranean world as Paul takes pen in hand and tells the story of how God did not spare his only son. The place? Mount Tabor where we witness God’s glory manifest in Jesus in the presence of Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John.
So what about Hannah Coulter and her connection to our readings?
She writes: "No big happiness came to me yet, but little happinesses did come, and they came from ordinary pleasures in ordinary things: the baby, sunlight, breezes, animals and birds, daily work, rest when I was tired, food, strands of fog in the hollows early in the morning, butterflies, flowers" (57).
Wherein did Abraham, Paul and Jesus find happiness, big and little? For Abraham it was twofold: Doing God’s will and having his son safe beside him. St. Paul took his delight and joy in the knowledge of God’s love made manifest in Jesus. Our Lord knew happiness in furthering the kingdom of his Father as he revealed God’s glory through his total self-giving.
Hannah writes: "Kindness kept us alive. It made us think of each other" (50).
One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is kindness. God’s kindness to Abraham, to St. Paul, to Peter, James and John, transformed their lives. They knew the object of God’s love. This love led to a response of love. Creator and creature in mutual thoughtfulness, what a story!
Hannah Coulter writes: "This is my story, my giving of thanks" (3).
Did not Abraham thank God every day for the gift of faith and the gift of his son? Did not St. Paul express his gratitude by a life of total discipleship? Did not Peter, James and John, through their preaching and suffering, manifest their thanks for all that Jesus had done for them?
The novel ends with a haunting, mysterious last sentence: Hannah writes: "The shiver of the altogether given passes over me from head to foot" (186).
Questions for reflection
1. What are our big and little happinesses?
2. What are you grateful for?
3. What makes you shiver?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.