All This Heavenly Glory

I didn’t love All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane until I got close to the end. I still wouldn’t call it one of my favorite books of all time or anything like that, but there were two chapters close to the end that I really enjoyed. The first one was about prayer:

Although she did not belong to any religion, she had heard various interpretations of the eleventh step over the years about what it was okay to pray for (the eleventh step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests praying only for knowledge of god’s will, but it also suggests meditation, which to Charlotte went as far as turning off the TV), i.e., go ahead and pray for whatever you want, but it might be a better idea to pray only for god’s will. Charlotte tended to struggle with this as she found it difficult to avoid the idea that god’s will for everyone was to give up all material possessions and head for the farthest starving or war-torn country, not considering that maybe god, if he had a mind, and if he were a he and if he were only concerned with this sort of altruism, maybe had some more appropriate type of service in his mind for Charlotte, like maybe making a film that would compel millions of people to go out and do his will, which only muddles things a little more for Charlotte because she’d really rather make a film that would inspire people however it inspired them, but also because she wonders how she’d necessarily even know if she were making a film that inspired anyone at all, whether to do god’s will or whatever else, or if it matters if she knows, which is often the real question she has about god’s will, whether she prays for it or not, does it even matter if she knows, if it’s being done anyway, and what about if god really is punishing, what if she’s completely wrong about god insofar as the one thing she holds to is that god has to want what’s good, even if she might not know what that is above and beyond generally treating people well.

The book is full of delightful run-on sentences like that, so if that drives you crazy, stay away. I found it a little disconcerting at first, especially when I noticed that the whole first chapter is one sentence, but I also got that we were in Charlotte’s mind, and my mind works like that, too, so I recognized a kindred spirit.

The other chapter I enjoyed had to do with 9/11.

Check email again, glance at TV, think, Something has gone horribly wrong at air traffic control. Thirty minutes later, recognize this as one of your last innocent thoughts, which is ironic considering you thought you had your last one twenty years ago (something along the lines of My grandparents lived to be a hundred, therefore my parents will never die).

I read that to Mike, explaining that I felt much the same way: “Oh, what a horrible accident!” And then we all realized it was on purpose. The chapter ends by saying: “Go back to being exactly the same as before, only different.”

The book says the title is taken from a Bruce Lee movie where a character says, “If you gaze too hard at the finger pointing to the moon, you’ll miss all the heavenly glory.” The book, though, is about the small things that make up our lives: what happens when you have a crush on your friend’s boyfriend and staying with your dad for the summer and bad first dates and meeting your boyfriend’s family for the first time and playdates with your best school friend. I happen to think that in those things we can catch glimpses of heavenly glory here on earth, pieces of what life should be like and what we were created for. And yet, I agree with the quote, that we shouldn’t focus completely on the things here, because they are only signs pointing us in the direction of what is to come.

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