“She’s glad to be a Christian and would be one, even if she could get to heaven without it. “ Anne Shirley, the heroine of Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book, Anne of Green Gables, speaks those words. If a novel written in 1908 for young girls, isn’t the first place you’d think of looking for theological insights, think again.
One summer I made the pilgrimage to Ms Montgomery’s home in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island and learned about the important role religion played in her life. Anne of Green Gables is her most famous story. It is about a young orphan girl who finds a happy home with an elderly woman and her brother. Its text contains some interesting comments about Christianity
“She’s glad to be a Christian”, is Anne’s remark after being introduced to the wife of her church’s new minister. Anne finds Christians a rather melancholy lot until she meets this cheerful young woman. It’s refreshing for her to encounter someone who is serious about their faith, but also takes such delight in living, and finds real joy in her relationships with others. Anne believes Jesus was cheerful too.
Anne sees a picture called Christ Blessing Little Children and wishes the artist hadn’t painted Jesus looking so serious. “I don’t believe he looked that sad,” says Anne, “or the children would have been afraid of him.” Anne envisions Jesus as someone who enjoyed his life and found happiness in his interactions with others. Positive people make the best faith ambassadors.
“If I were a man I think I’d be a minister”, Anne declares. She goes on to say she’d be sure to pick short, snappy texts for her sermons and preach with imaginative creativity.
Lucy Maud Montgomery created her lively red-headed character in the early 1900s when there was no female clergy. How brilliant to use her novel as a way to explore the possibility of women behind the pulpit. Anne goes on to ask “ Why can’t women be ministers?” She says if any work needs to be done in the church from fundraising to meal preparation, the ladies of the congregation carry out the task with energy and success. Why couldn’t they preach too?
Although many denominations have gender equity in their clergy, there are still some churches where female pastors are not welcomed. They might do well to read Anne of Green Gables.
“I don’t think its fair for the teacher to ask all the questions. There were lots of questions I wanted to ask”. Anne makes this observation after her first experience in a Sunday school class. Churches should be places where people feel comfortable asking lots of questions. Adolescents, in particular, need their curiosity affirmed and their inquires treated with respect.
“If I really wanted to pray, I’d go into a great big field. I’d lie down and look up into that lovely sky, that looks like there’s no end to its’ blueness and then I’d just feel a prayer.” Anne makes that observation when she is trying to think of a way to address God and isn’t sure what to say.
Maybe we can learn something from Anne imprisoned as we are in our offices during the day and at home in front of the television and computer screens at night. If we’re having trouble praying perhaps we need to step outside. “Feeling a prayer” might come naturally while smelling the lilacs on a walk, or doing a little star gazing in our backyard on a warm night. One particularly beautiful day Anne says, “The world looks like something God imagined for his own pleasure.” I think God imagined it for our pleasure too.
Lucy Maud Montgomery is a gifted author whose work contains some perceptive observations about Christianity. I think it’s great that as people around the world read this famous Canadian’s books, they will not only be entertained but will be prompted to think more deeply about religious faith as well.