Faith is a tricky business. As a child and teen, your parents want you to adopt their faith, which makes sense because it is what they believe in their heart of hearts to be true. And yet, teens are on the pathway to individuality and adulthood and forming their own identity, which includes determining what they think about their faith.
Faith, or spirituality, is a journey. It’s not even a straight line journey but a journey full of peaks and valleys and forks in the road. To help guide them on their journey, many people choose to read Inspirational (sometimes called Christian) fiction. As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams, I have always found it personally difficult to read Christian fiction. With the emphasis being on the Christian message – and being “appropriate’ – it often fails to develop accurate, complex characters. The message can over take the story and the plot in heavy handed ways. As a reader, I prefer nuance over anvils. (Caveat: this is not always true, just a generalization.)
One of the most profound spiritual experiences I have had this year as a reader has actually been while reading the GLBTQ book Ask the Passengers by A. S. King. You can read about it here. But what you don’t know is that I e-mailed A. S. King after reading this book and told her personally about how it spoke to me about my faith and the nature of God and how it reminded me how much God loves every person. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. I was so thankful to read this book and be enriched not only as a human being, but as a person of faith.
That is also part of the beauty of Waiting. Here are people that have supposedly done everything right and out of a deep abiding faith, but their lives spiral out of control and in the end they have to decide how this unravelling fits in with their spiritual beliefs. They must also decide whether or not they can come back to that belief, even if it is in different ways.
Here is where it behooves us to remember that some of the greatest books about faith and the spiritual life were not written and published as “Christian fiction” or “Inspirational fiction”, but as science fiction, fantasy and more. Think of writers like C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and Chaim Potok (My Name is Asher Lev). The truth is that although our faith and spirituality may be the underpinning of who we are and how we live our lives, we still must live our lives in the context of a very real world. (One of the best nonfiction titles I have ever read is Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle, I highly recommend that you read it.)
And of course we must remember that when we discuss faith and spirituality, we are talking about more than just the Christian faith. And sometimes, in the end, our main characters decide that they have no faith at all – just as some of our teens do. And that is where authors take us on a real spiritual journey, when they are honest about the reality in which our teens live and understand the nuance of daily living.