“Everybody likes to go their own way—to chuse their own time and manner of devotion.”— Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. (Edward responds that those who cannot discipline themselves to focus on God in a worship service are unlikely to be able to focus in private devotions.)
We’re getting close to Christmas and a New Year. This is a good time to start reading a new devotional, something to help us think in new ways, to be encouraged to grow in our faith. Or we might want to give a devotional as a gift to someone we love.
In the next few weeks, I’ll review two Jane Austen-related devotionals and one related to church history; each helpful and inspiring in its own way.
Jane Austen Devotional
Book Review: A Jane Austen Devotional, Compiled and Written by Steffany Woolsey. Thomas Nelson, 2012.
“It is one of life’s great pleasures to finish a book and feel the satisfaction of not only having read a well-crafted story, but of learning a valuable life lesson about God and human nature” — A Jane Austen Devotional, introduction
In this series of 104 daily devotions, Woolsey presents excerpts from Austen’s books. She adds a Scriptural expansion on the themes, characters, and lessons of each selection. A Bible verse closes each devotional. Each reading is only a few minutes long. The book is fun for Austen fans and those who want to look more deeply into the moral messages of her work.
Spiritual Lessons from Austen
I enjoyed reading this book, bit by bit, though it wasn’t as deep as some devotionals I have read. Sometimes the connections were a little stretched. In an early chapter, the author goes from Mr. Bennet’s failure to love his wife, in Pride and Prejudice, to Christ’s unconditional love for us. But often the parallels are clearer. After a selection on Mrs. Norris’ hoarding her money in Mansfield Park, Woolsey explains the parable of the talents (Matt. 25) as an exhortation to us to give generously of what we have rather than hiding it away.
She also brings out other good lessons. Mr. Woodhouse of Emma worries constantly. Woolsey tells us that “time spent worrying is time not spent trusting God,” and reminds us with several verses to pray instead of worry. When Mr. Knightley rebukes Emma, this shows us “How important it is to choose friends who choose to speak honestly in love, rather than fill us with shallow falsehoods.”
Jane Bennet of Pride and Prejudice is “a rare example of someone who follows the true biblical definition of love.” Mr. Darcy’s love is “built on action, character, and honor,” and we’re all looking for someone “who comes . . . and proclaims, ‘Surely, you must know it was all for you.’” In contrast, Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park is characterized as a viper (like the Pharisees) in his selfish campaign to ensnare Fanny’s heart. Fanny, who loves Edmund, prays for Edmund’s happiness, even if he marries her rival Mary Crawford. This illustrates God’s love for us.
I recommend this book to those who want a dose of Austen each day along with light meditations in Scripture, and who enjoy seeing how biblical principles play out in Austen’s fiction.
In the introduction, the author hopes “. . . this book will bring you moments of peace while you allow God’s Word to shape your own character.” Amen.
Next week we’ll review The Christian History Devotional by J. Stephen Lang.