Saturday, January 19, 2008

An Inkling for Jane Austen- Part I

I've always been partial to "Jane", the name is the title for some stunning female heroines. There's Jane Eyre that petite passionate woman who could hold a man like Rochester at bay. And of course the "nine days queen", Lady Jane Grey, that stalwart Queen of England, beheaded at the tender age of 18, one of "the finest female minds of the century." Then, there's Jane Austen, who gives us all manner of intelligent female minds, including another Jane, Jane Bennet.

I mean, what's not to like about Jane?!

I told Dale I'd like to save "Jane" for a daughter, a suggestion that made him baulk. So we compromised and used the title on our sweet Welsh Corgi, "Lady Jane." I get a little happy tingle when I hear her name (even when it's shouted at the top of our lungs, "Lady Jane, NO BARKING!")

I'm not the only one who is partial to Jane, particularly Jane Austen. There's been a quiet, steady resurgence of all things Austenian. As the New York Times has asked, "Will the clock on Jane Austen obsession ever run out?" Heavens and Earth, let us hope not!

For now we can watch all the Austen books, "The Complete Jane Austen" remade (or re-released) on Masterpiece Theater these next few months, every Sunday evening. Be still my foolish heart! And of course Lady Jane will be joining me for these evening premiers. Last weeks rendition of Persuasion was just lovely.

It so happens that this Jane Austen obsession is something that drew me to one female author, Lori Smith, a woman so captivated with this 18th century female mind that she decided to re-trace the path of Jane Austen's life, using up months of her life to step into Jane's footprints, blogging her experiences which later took the form of A Walk With Jane Austen (2007) a blook (a blog turned into a book) that recounts the intersection of Smith and Austen's lives.

I caught up with Lori Smith, a woman familiar with depression, victories, honesty and grace, a woman who keeps up with daily postings at her Jane Austen Quote of the Day, a woman I was pleased to get to know better through this interview I'd like to share with you.

Hi, Lori. I’m so glad you agreed to let me ask you a few questions! Your book A Walk with Jane Austen gave me a chance to get to know you better, your honesty and humility made it a refreshing read. There were several parts where I felt we were kindred spirits, enjoying the same things in Austen, frustrated about the same issues with life and the church.

In chapter One, "Crossing Oceans" you write, “It had been years since I’d felt at home in the church” (p 14) that sentence stuck with me throughout your book. It is something I've noticed in many women in the church. Could you share what that means to you? In what ways did you feel homeless?

I don’t know if I can explain it, but church had stopped feeling good. I was forcing myself to go on Sundays, and not feeling kinship there, and feeling out of place—being single, being sick (and struggling with depression, though I didn’t realize it at the time). Actually, saying it didn’t feel good is an understatement—I was at church in tears from time to time, and terribly sad about the whole thing. The church I grew up in was like family—and still is. I was looking for a different form of expression, but felt the great loss of the home that I had always known.

I feel that it helps to know that women like you are publicly sharing your disillusionment for the church, your frustration that church and depression are not permitted together, at least not on Sunday morning when we're wearing our "best" (read best faces, best clothes, best attitudes, best performances). In your chapter, “Sensibility and Self-Expression” you made such a helpful observation,

There is a strain of evangelicalism, particularly among women I think, in which anything that isn’t happy is viewed as dangerous . . . I cannot be a part of a religion that doesn’t understand lament.

I value your willingness to see that unhappy things are part of the tapestry of real womanhood and therefore if they are dangerous they are like Aslan who is also dangerous (not safe), but good.

I know that you live with the daily labor of living with Lyme’s disease alongside the work of continuing your writing and daily blog. How have you learned to embrace lament and honest painful expression within the often stifling milieu of sunshin-ey, smiley Christianity? As a woman what gives you courage to be a woman of lament?

Living with Lyme disease, which means I deal with constant exhaustion, pushed me to depths I didn’t know existed. I could no longer pretend to be okay, I simply wasn’t. It took living through that experience for me to begin to understand lament, and I still think I have a lot to learn about how to process it and how it should be experienced. I’m comforted by the fact that there’s a long tradition of lament in Christianity, that David and the prophets felt no need to be smiley. I was struggling the other day, wavering between accusing God and trusting him, and I thought, “I wonder if that qualifies me to be a psalmist?”

More from Lori Smith to come.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I found this post to be quite interesting. Especially the part about how we need to put on a happy face at all times. I don't understand why churches make the impression that this is how it is to be.
The Bible doesn't teach a happiness Christianity. It does teach that we are to have joy, but, that is something quite different.
I sincerely hope that we as women don't convey that message to other women. What am I saying? To be quite frank, I believe that is exactly what we're doing (even if we don't mean to). We should be each others biggest cheerleaders and yet, we seem to be the biggest critics.
Anyhow, just thought I'd share my thoughts.