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Christmas 2016: Reflections from Literary Portals to Prayer

Posted by Patricia A. Lynch on

Literary Portals to Prayer…and Christmas
Excerpts from Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Gaskell

In Starlight, theologian and storyteller John Shea wishes us a “defiant Christmas.”

No matter how severe the outer world is—darkness, barrenness, rejection—it cannot snuff out the light, wither the greenness, or destroy the love. Although we do not always reflect on it, there is an edge to Christmas, an in-your-face attitude. Chesterton put it simply and well: “A religion that defies the world should have a feast that defies the weather.”

In their own ways, three nineteenth-century authors featured in ACTA’s Literary Portals to Prayer series reveal the “edge” to the season and the hope for transformation.

John Shea picks up on the theme of transformation:

When the outer world is darkness, barrenness and rejection, Christmas is a lesson in bringing forth and responding to the inner world of light, greenness and love.

May these excerpts from three cherished authors and their “illuminating” passages from The Message give you the insight and determination to be defiant in this holy season.

Scroll down for our special offer on Literary Portals of Prayer.


from Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

One evening, when the clear light at six o’clock contrasted strangely with the Christmas cold, and when the bitter wind piped down every entry, and through every cranny, Barton sat brooding over his stinted fire, and listening for Mary’s step…. The door was opened, and Wilson came breathless in.

“You’ve not got a bit o’ money by you, Barton?” asked he.

“Not I; who has now, I’d like to know. Whatten you want it for?”

“I donnot want it for mysel, tho’ we’ve none to spare. But don ye know Ben Davenport as worked at Carsons’? He’s down wi’ the fever, and ne’er a stick o’ fire, nor a cowd potato in the house.”

“I han got no money, I tell ye,” said Barton. Wilson looked disappointed. Barton tried not to be interested, but he could not help it in spite of his gruffness. He rose, and went to the cupboard (his wife’s pride long ago). There lay the remains of his dinner, hastily put there ready for supper. Bread, and a slice of cold fat boiled bacon. He wrapped them in his handkerchief, put them in the crown of his hat, and said—“Come, let’s be going.”

“Going—art thou going to work this time o’ day?”

“No, stupid, to be sure not. Going to see the fellow thou spoke on.” So they put on their hats and set out.

An Illuminating Passage from The Message: Luke 6:35-36

“Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.”


from Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals

One snowy Saturday night, when our wood was very low, a poor child came to beg a little, as the baby was sick and the father on a spree with all his wages. My mother hesitated at first, as we also had a baby. Very cold weather was upon us, and a Sunday to be got through before more wood could be had. My father said, “Give half our stock, and trust in Providence; the weather will moderate, or wood will come.” Mother laughed, and answered in her cheery way, “Well, their need is greater than ours, and if our half gives out we can go to bed and tell stories.” So a generous half went to the poor neighbor, and a little later in the eve, while the storm still raged and we were about to cover our fire to keep it a knock came, and a farmer who usually supplied us appeared, saying anxiously, “I started for Boston with a load of wood, but it drifts so I want to go home. Wouldn’t you like to have me drop the wood here; it would accommodate me, and you needn’t hurry about paying for it.” “Yes,” said Father; and as the man went off he turned to Mother with a look that much impressed us children with his gifts as a seer, “Didn’t I tell you wood would come if the weather did not moderate?” Mother’s motto was “Hope, and keep busy,” and one of her sayings, “Cast your bread upon the waters, and after many days it will come back buttered.”

An Illuminating Passage from The Message: 1 Kings 17:10-16

So he got up and went to Zarephath. As he came to the entrance of the village he met a woman, a widow, gathering firewood. He asked her, “Please, would you bring me a little water in a jug? I need a drink.” As she went to get it, he called out, “And while you’re at it, would you bring me something to eat?”

She said, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t worry about a thing. Go ahead and do what you’ve said. But first make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here. Then go ahead and make a meal from what’s left for you and your son. This is the word of the God of Israel: ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends this drought.’

And she went right off and did it, did just as Elijah asked. And it turned out as he said—daily food for her and her family. The jar of meal didn’t run out and the bottle of oil didn’t become empty: God’s promise fulfilled to the letter, exactly as Elijah had delivered it!


An Excerpt from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

An Illuminating Passage from The Message: Isaiah 58:6-8

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’


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Louisa May Alcott

Hans Christian Andersen

Charles Dickens

Elizabeth Gaskell

Herman Melville

William Shakespeare

Edith Wharton