Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stepping Heavenward by Mrs E Prentiss

I love receiving books as Christmas presents. Nothing like a few more titles to add to my nice little pile of Summer reading. These holidays I have already devoured “The Secret Chord” by Geraldine Brooks and “Special Delivery” by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe. Yes I know it’s a cookbook, but I read it all the way through and it is very witty. The pea and mint tarts on page 218 are simply delightful.

And now I am enjoying Stepping Heavenward, by Mrs E Prentiss, published in 1869. A thoughtful friend gave me this book last year and I added it to my Summer reading pile as I was keen to see what wisdom Mrs Prentiss has to share. Jane Austen she is not, but I am finding this tale of a young woman’s yearning to find certain assurance of God’s love and to live for Him is both challenging and enjoyable. Just hang in there past the first few chapters and you will see why I think it is a worthwhile read.

The heroine of our story is Katherine Mortimer. At the age of sixteen dear Katherine decides to keep a journal and it is on the pages of that journal that she reveals herself to be proud, vain and very rude to her mother. But she also regrets her bad behaviour and is full of resolutions that she will improve. She hardly ever sticks to them.

Katherine has grown up in a society where regular church attendance is the norm and Bible reading and praying are part of everyday life. She looks to her mother as a pious and generous-hearted woman who is always trying to guide Katherine towards holiness and away from self –fulfilment. She talks to her pastor and listens to the guidance of her mother. But she really doesn’t seem to understand Grace. She is troubled by her own lack of love for God and her own pathetic attempts to behave in a way that would please her long suffering mother and render her soul acceptable to her heavenly father.
“This morning I cried a great deal while I was on my knees and felt sorry for my quick temper and all my bad ways. If I always felt so, perhaps praying would not be such a task. I wish I knew whether anybody exactly as bad as I am ever got to heaven at last?”

When I first met Katherine I was irritated by her selfishness, but I began to feel quite sympathetic towards this poor creature always tossed about on a sea of emotions, who did actually seek God and wanted to love him even when she knew she was so wretched at it. Despite being surrounded by Christians she either hadn’t been clearly told the gospel and accepted God’s free gift or she wasn’t listening. What a relief when in chapter eight the scales finally fall from her eyes:
“But I wanted to have all there was in God and all there was in the world at once; and there was a constant struggle between the two. I hope that struggle is now over. I deliberately choose and prefer God.”

There's no biting satire, and no comical clergymen or verbose old maids to laugh at. But I am enjoying this novel because the insights that Prentiss has Katherine glean after many trials and tribulations of the heart, the soul and the mind are laid out for us and we feel her pain as she moves towards a better understanding of God’s love for her and how to show His love to others. In chapter thirteen a dear friend finally helps her to see that just as justification cannot be earned by godly behaviour, sanctification isn’t simply a matter of pulling up her bootstraps and just trying harder.

 I love the character of her poor mother always giving Katherine kind but firm talkings to about her flibberty gibbet ways. It makes me question whether if in my eagerness to teach my children how to behave I have often failed to explain that only God can change their self-centred hearts and that it is on Him they need to rely and to Him they need to pray. 

As I follow Katherine's story I see my own struggles and trials reflected in her journey heavenward. You'll have to wait for my next post to see if this journey includes a dark eyed and brooding hero.

About this month's contributor, Rachael Collins
Rachael Collins is a Jane Austen fan who often finds it amusing that she is married to Mr Collins who is indeed  a minister. She is an English/ History teacher who has taken a break from teaching in order to devote more time to reading children's literature. Her three children are the happy beneficiaries of this decision. Rachael enjoys gardening, drinking tea and sorting her wardrobe according to colour. In between planning to plant a new church in Marsden Park, she really hopes to read a lot of books this year.

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