“The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to everybody, and a mine of felicity to herself.” –On Miss Bates, in Emma. Quoted in Shannon Winslow’s Prayer and Praise.
I have very much enjoyed Shannon Winslow’s new book, Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional. In each devotional, Shannon takes a line or phrase from Jane Austen’s prayers and expands on it with illustrations from Austen’s novels and from the Bible. Each ends with prayer and praise. I had the privilege of reading the whole book shortly before publication. I found it rich, deep, and encouraging. I am delighted to have Shannon share with us today about her lovely book:
From Shannon Winslow
I appreciate Brenda so much for giving me this opportunity to share an excerpt from my new book with you today here at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, especially since the book so well fits the themes of this blog!
With eight novels under my belt (all but one Jane Austen-related), I began feeling a pull to do something different – something potentially more consequential. I often pray that God would use my gifts for His glory, and now I felt a tug to put that prayer into action. In this case, that meant combining my love for God’s Word and my dedication to all things Austen into one project: a devotional inspired by Jane Austen’s prayers.
I begin each of the 50 messages with a line from one of Jane Austen’s preserved prayers, bringing in illustrations from her novels and related scripture, then finishing with prayer and praise, which gave me the book’s title: Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional.
Just one more thing you should know before reading the sample segment below. It’s sort of a disclaimer or at least a necessary explanation – one which I give readers in the book’s introduction:
In these devotional segments, I speak of Jane Austen’s characters as if they are real people with real thoughts and experiences. Jane Austen drew them so true to life (part of her genius), and I have spent so much time in their company that they are like old friends to me. Perhaps you feel much the same way. In any case, for our purposes here, the lines between fact and fiction can be safely discarded in favor of what these characters and their stories can teach us by illustrating Biblical principles.
Selection from Prayer and Praise
A Most Fortunate Creature
Be gracious to our Necessities…
Human beings are very needy. And although we may work hard to be sure our basic daily requirements – food, water, housing, health care, transportation – are met, so much remains out of our control. Even if we’re doing well now, there’s no guarantee about the future. Whether we like to admit it or not, at any moment some unforeseen disaster could change everything.
The death of Mr. Dashwood immediately and dramatically changed the fortunes of his wife and daughters in Sense and Sensibility, although they were hardly left in doubt of their next meal. The Austen character living closest to true poverty is probably Miss Bates (and her mother), who had come down a long way from her previous position (financially and socially), when her notice was considered an honor, according to Mr. Knightley.
“…Were she your equal in situation – but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion . . .” (Emma, chapter 43)
If you’ve read Emma, you know Jane Austen didn’t spare the reader from experiencing how annoying Miss Bates could be with her incessant talking. After persevering through a few of her excruciatingly long monologues, it’s easy to understand Emma’s assessment that Miss Bates is an unfortunate blend of the good and the ridiculous. Her chief defect is easy to identify, but consider Jane Austen’s description of her other qualities:
Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body’s happiness, quick sighted to every body’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother, and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to everybody, and a mine of felicity to herself (Emma, chapter 3).
What a glowing recommendation! I admit that I was a little surprised to read this again and rediscover the extent of Miss Bates’s admirable traits. She is good to her elderly mother. She works hard at stretching very limited resources to meet their needs. She has a contented and grateful spirit, which reminds me of Fanny Price. But what really caught my eye in this passage was how Miss Bates’s positive outlook in the midst of difficult circumstances makes all the difference – for herself and others. Her universal good will and contented temper work wonders, we are told. Her cheerfulness and grateful spirit make her a favorite with everyone she knows. And in turn, these things become a continual source of happiness for Miss Bates herself.
Although a piece of fiction, we can glean genuine wisdom and truth from this example. First, we see that attitude matters. As Proverbs 17:22 tells us, A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Also, what a person gives out to others affects what he or she receives back in return.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give; not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work . . . Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, 10-12).
Miss Bates sowed generously in every way she could – perhaps with money in the past when she had it to give, but later, in her poverty, she continued conferring love, goodwill, and good humor to everyone in her path. Consequently, she received the same goodwill in return. She was always invited to the best social gatherings, despite the fact she could never afford to properly reciprocate. And she was treated with kindness and charity by those who had means (Mr. Knightley sending his carriage for her, gifts of food from Donwell and Hartfield). In this way, all were blessed – both the givers and the receivers – and God was glorified for his provision. I can hear Miss Bates’s overflowing expressions of thanks now.
“Oh! My dear sir, as my mother says, our friends are only too good to us. If ever there were people who, without having great wealth themselves, had every thing they could wish for, I am sure it is us. We may well say that ‘our lot is cast in a goodly heritage.’” (Emma, chapter 21)
How delightful to discover Miss Bates quoting what sounds very much like a version of Psalms 16:6, which I just used myself a few pages ago! I have gained a new respect for her, and I hope you have as well.
Let Us Pray
Oh, God, source of all blessings and sustenance, give us joyful and grateful hearts. Out of the abundance you have in your grace given us, inspire us to generously sow seeds of kindness and compassion in Jesus’ name wherever we go. Amen.
Let Us Praise
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (Psalms 107:8-9)
And here’s a little more, from the Back Cover:
Did you know that Jane Austen wrote prayers in addition to her six classic novels? She was not only a woman of celebrated humor, intellect, and insight; she was a woman of faith.
Prayer & Praise is a treasure trove of thought-provoking messages inspired by the lines of Austen’s three preserved prayers. Atop a solid foundation of scripture, these 50 devotional segments (each finishing with prayer and praise) enlist familiar characters and situations from Austen novels to illustrate spiritual principles – in creative, often surprising, ways!
Which one of Austen’s characters developed a god complex? Who was really pulling Henry Crawford’s strings? Where do we see examples of true repentance, a redeemer at work, light overcoming darkness? With a Biblical perspective, Austen’s beloved stories reveal new lessons about life, truth, hope, and faith.
From Brenda again:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this devotional which Shannon kindly shared with us. I highly recommend Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional.
I have now reviewed several devotional books based on Jane Austen’s work. I find each valuable, as each gives an author’s unique perspectives and thoughts. Each provides a richer understanding of Austen’s prayers and works while, more importantly, deepening our relationship with God. I hope you will take the time to read and pray through as many of them as you can!
While I used to find Miss Bates irritating, now I find her a great example of an attitude of joy in every circumstance. How can you find such joy in your circumstances, right now, today?