Alice Munro, who was born and grew up in Wingham, ON, began her writing career when she was very young but saw that career begin to flourish when she moved to British Columbia in the 1960s. She and her first husband, James Munro, began the marvellous and iconic ‘Monro’s Books’ on Government Street in Victoria. If you don’t include Saul Bellows, who was born in Canada but left as a small child and is claimed by the Americans as one of their own, Alice Munro is the first Canadian Nobel Laureate for literature.
I don’t know her work well; my wife Kerry has read her more extensively. But several years ago, I had an encounter with her short story collection called, The Progress of Love, first published in 1986. It contains an unusual description which I find quite insightful and moving about ordinary spirituality. The first paragraph has wonderful lines in it about a life of prayer: ”…that kind of life is dreary, people think, but they are missing the point. For one thing, such a life can never be boring. And nothing can happen to you that you can’t make use of” (it doesn’t always necessarily make sense and sometimes it is complicated but you can always make use of it).
The second paragraph that I am going to quote is full of Canadian enthusiastic piety, and I find it endearing, not even particularly dramatic. I love the powerful, almost dismissive anticlimactic sentence that ends our section from this story: ”She was back to being an Anglican”, as if like Bilbo Baggins she had been on a journey, yet instead of being changed, it had left her indifferent and sadly back to being ordinary.
So for your reading pleasure:
My mother prayed on her knees at midday, at night, and first thing in the morning. Every day opened up to her to have God’s will done in it. Every night she totted up what she’d done and said and thought, to see how it squared with Him. That kind of life is dreary, people think, but they’re missing the point. For one thing, such a life can never be boring. And nothing can happen to you that you can’t make use of. Even if you’re racked by troubles, and sick and poor and ugly, you’ve got your soul to carry through life like a treasure on a platter. Going upstairs to pray after the noon meal, my mother would be full of energy and expectation, seriously smiling.
She was saved at a camp meeting when she was fourteen. That was the same summer that her own mother – my grandmother – died. For a few years, my mother went to meetings with a lot of other people who’d been saved, some who’d been saved over and over again, enthusiastic old sinners. She could tell stories about what went on at those meetings, the singing and hollering and wildness. She told about one old man getting up and shouting, “Come down, O Lord, come down among us now! Come down through the roof and I’ll pay for the shingles!”
She was back to being just an Anglican, a serious one, by the time she got married….
Alice Munro, The Progress of Love, pp. 4-5.
I just wanted to share a bit of the passing magnificence of a fellow Canadian being recognized, even if she has little cause with an explicit faith. Her insights in this selection are, in part, things I dearly identify with. Sometimes it is good to embrace the dramatic events of recognition that happen around us.