The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall “Study does not engender wisdom…Analysis does not inspire insight.”

Study doesn’t not engender wisdom,” he continued, his voice stern and challenging. “Analysis does not inspire insight.” He raised his eyebrows, exhorting Charles and his classmates to pay attention. “Only empathy allows us to see clearly. Only compassion brings lasting change.” (p. 14)

This is not my book. It was given to me by my mother, who had received it from a friend. Hence the break in my Japanese reading; I wanted to read it and return it in a timely manner.

My mother and I are constantly discussing why it is that novels written by Christians seem to resemble Harlequin Romances. Not in the way of romance, but in the way of trite. Well-meaning, to be sure, but essentially sitting on your tongue like a meringue which is alternately melting into nothing and making you shiver with its sweetness.

That is why The Dearly Beloved is so special. The two couples within its pages wrestle with doubt, both with themselves and with God. Never mind that the two men are ministers, that one of the wives is a pastor’s daughter. The other one lost her parents in a car accident when she was a child, and she will not believe in God. One of her twin sons is born with autism, and she will not believe in God. But, her doubts, her questions, her reluctance are a remarkable platform on which to build the novel. For what Christian doesn’t question God?

Lily is in stark contrast to Nan, who believes in God with her whole heart and always has. I find myself in her words:

Of all the things she thought she could give up for him (James, her beloved) she could not give up her faith in God. She had pondered this as deeply as her father would have wanted her to, and she had come to the conclusion that her faith was an essential part of the person she wanted to be. Who would she be without God? What purpose would her childhood have served? Whom would she thank for her blessings? How would she understand the workings of the world? How would she accept its mysteries? (p. 61)

It’s not something that you can be taught; faith is something you grab hold of, or don’t. And I love how Cara Wall has shown us in this novel that it is not easy. It is not simple. It is not always clear or straightforward.

God doesn’t always come in visions or dreams, and God rarely comes in certainty,” he (Nan’s father) went on. “God has come to you in restlessness and yearning. God has come to you in questioning. God has come to you as a challenge. It won’t be easy, but it’s a perfectly acceptable calling.

This is said to her fiancé, James, who has decided to become a minister. His uncle sponsors his education through a university in England, and so it seems quite unlikely that he would be sitting for an interview next to Charles.

Faithful, sturdy, unswerving Charles. He was my favorite in all the book, even though I most closely resemble Lily’s nose-in-a-book, headstrong ways. His faith carries him through the most trying challenges, the unbelief that surrounds him especially in his wife, Lily. Charles is given this advice when he is considering marrying her:

Love is the enjoyment of something. The feeling of wanting something deeply, of wanting nothing more. Our love of God is not as important as our faith in God. Love wanes, faith cannot. One can have faith and anger, faith and hate. One can believe deeply and still rail against God, still blame God. In fact, if one can hate God it is a sign of deep faith, because you cannot hate and at the same time doubt God’s existence. (p. 127)

But, no one is prepared for the issues of barrenness or of a child with special needs. No one is the perfect wife or husband, mother or father, friend or minister. They work through their wounds and longing, their sacrifice and fulfillment, growing ever more closely bound together. They become the dearly beloved to one another.

I found this a deeply moving book, able to express far more than one narrow perspective on faith from either the faithful, or the unbeliever.

8 thoughts on “The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall “Study does not engender wisdom…Analysis does not inspire insight.””

  1. stellar review…somehow the author says it all in a moving searching way. The characters she creates seem so believable and the search for God by each one, vastly important. I found myself hoping that they would somehow be enlightened into perfect faith, which no one possesses.

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    1. It seemed to me that Charles’ faith was the most perfect of all, and yet he even succumbed to dreadful doubt. But, perhaps his work was best carried out in what God admonishes us to do: love one another. Truly love, in a way that looks more for the other than for the self.

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  2. I was raised Christian. It did not stick when I left home, but those teachings do come back to me. A book like this always helps me sort out where I stand and increases my tolerance for faith and belief. I have read all of Elizabeth Goudges’s novels in which she looks at Christianity from all sides, current and historical. I love anything I have read by Madeleine L’Engle. There are more. Thanks for your eloquent review. I will look for this one.

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    1. I have such a special place in my heart for Madeleine L’Engle. I own every book she has written, collecting them since my teenage years, and even having the good fortune to have her sign The Love Letters in person when I saw her speak at Wheaton College. She was able to help me sort through all sorts of questions, which she does with her own questions, often ending in the answer of “love”. It does cover over a multitude of sins, although it is not always easy.

      I haven’t read Elizabeth Goudge, though. Thank you for pointing her out.

      Reading, and talking about what we’ve read, is such a healing process. I highly recommend this book, which is anything but “preachy”.

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    1. Thank you, JoAnn! I thought it was a bit hard to write about, without giving too much away, and also to not sound preachy myself. I think that readers either embrace, or scorn, books on faith; there was only one retweet on Twitter (not that that matters to me). I’m just intrigued by what sparks interest, and often people seem to run from God rather than to Him. But, this novel looked at our questions and doubts so beautifully. I loved it, and I’m not surprised you did, too. Xoxo

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  3. Years ago, I watched a talk from author Anne Lamott. She suggested we take a piece of paper and write down all things that “God” personally means to us. Those little moments of kindness, grace, hope in spite of all odds, the ability to rebound, purpose in life…. It helps to look at that piece of paper now and then and draw strength from that. Truly, what would we be without these things?

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    1. I have liked what Anne Lamott has written, and from a secular point of view her ideas are very effective. For me, I rely on His word (the Bible) with everything I am. His promises help me in hard times, in times of doubt and worry. And, as you point out, writing things we are grateful for or His kept promises are so helpful. It is so much better to look at “kindness, grace, hope” and all the things you pointed out than see the shadows.

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