In 1991, Jerry Sittser faced the tragic loss of his young daughter, wife and mother --- all killed in a car accident. Five years later, he published what has become a classic story of God’s redemptive work in and through grief: A GRACE DISGUISED. At that point, he was still parenting his three remaining children while teaching religion at Whitworth College in Spokane.
Now, some 20 years later, he’s still teaching, but other landscape has changed. His children are grown and well situated, and he recently has remarried and gained two stepdaughters. Maybe it was time for him to write another reflective book that incorporated his life story. And A GRACE REVEALED is framed by the elements of story. Chapter titles include “Characters in Search of a Story”; “A Story in Search of Characters”; “Scene and Setting”; “Plot”; “Author”; “Character of the Characters”; and “Time, Timing, and Timelessness.”
"[Sittser] is a good writer with a mature perspective on life and its loves and losses. His years as a single father give credence to his voice and message."
But I wouldn’t characterize the book as memoir or autobiography. It is more a theological discussion of the redemptive nature of story. Biblical examples abound --- elements of the grand redemption story. (God is the story’s Author as well as a character.) And then there’s Sittser’s own story. In the preface, however, Sittser notes that he wants the reader to personalize the prose: “If you dare to surrender yourself to God, he will take up the story of your life and integrate it into the great story of salvation, turning it into something…extraordinary…”
The most interesting chapter, “Plot,” lays out six redemptive life-story “maps,” or plot lines. “We can’t step out of our own story to read it as if it were a novel, for the obvious reason that we arein the story, living it out chapter by chapter. But we can become familiar with the plots” of other people’s stories, “which will help us understand our own better.” If a childhood was chaotic, a redemptive story involves “passing on a new legacy,” breaking the dysfunctional cycle. Some life routes include great drama: people called to pursue “a noble vision,” to bear “a heavy burden” or to “triumph through suffering.” Some life maps show steady lives of “ordinary” faithfulness.
Another interesting chapter, “The Spirit of the Story,” delves deeper into what makes a story work. It’s about more than plot. In terms of the grand story and the personal story, this extra spark is the Holy Spirit, discussed at length here. The book ends acknowledging that our mortal years on earth are not the closing pages of the story. Even what we perceive to be the finale is the middle scene, with more to come in the afterlife.
There’s nothing earth-shatteringly new in Sittser’s book, but he is a good writer with a mature perspective on life and its loves and losses. His years as a single father give credence to his voice and message.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on October 18, 2012