Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Imagining the Past

Yesterday in the car, I turned on NPR and listened to a local talk show radio host interview an author about parents and their expectations of their children.  The host was talking about how parents have unrealistic expectations of their children so they can't live up to them.  My 8 year old daughter suddenly says from the back seat that no child can be good enough.  It took me a second to comprehend what she was saying and then I remembered what the sermon at church on Sunday had been about and the Bible study discussion from Sunday night.  I probed her and asked what she meant.  I learned that she understood that none of us are good enough to earn God's love.  We are loved by God and are good enough because Christ died for our sins.  We are saved by grace through faith--not by our own good works.  She didn't understand why the adults on the radio were having the discussion at all.  I reminded her of a time when she told me she was a horrible little girl because she'd daydreamed her day away and had very little school work done.  I reassured her at the time that I loved her no matter what and that she wasn't horrible at all--she just had a hard time focusing.  Then she understood how children could have those feelings, but also the truth that we are loved by God and redeemed by Christ.  

For centuries, Christians have had this same debate--are we saved by grace through faith or through faith and works or by a choice we make to place our trust in God?  I just finished reading a fiction book that addresses this same question.  It is a new fiction book for young women titled Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata by Simonetta Carr.  This book tells the story of Olympia, a young woman who was born in Italy during the 1500s and then later moved with her husband to Germany.  She lived in Italy during a time of great persecution of protestants.  This book tells the very personal story of Olympia's life amidst the broad story of the persecution of believers when she lived.  

The story begins with Olympia's acceptance to the court of the Duke of Ferrara to be his daughter, Anna's tutor.  It follows her education while interweaving her spiritual journey and the conflict between Lutherans and Catholics within the duchy of Ferrara, Italy, and the world.  The book is well written and interesting.  The author, Simonetta Carr, is a native of Italy who not lives in California.  It is really quite amazing how well she has written this book in her second language.  It would be very readable for a middle school or high school girl.  At first, I thought of it more for a high school girl, but after my discussion with my daughter yesterday, I realized that it would also be very appropriate for a middle school girl.  The transitions between the chapters can feel a little bit jumpy sometimes, but the author was trying to cover sixteen years in two hundred pages.  After the first few chapter transitions, I grew accustomed to how the story flowed.  This is a very good book for young women to read and ponder.  From the outset, the reader will know that Olympia dies at age 29 from the dates on the back of the book, but this book always presents life in a hope filled light--because of God's love.  I never expected to be as encouraged by reading this book as I was.  I simply expected a historical young adult novel.  Instead, I discovered a book rich in story and spiritual ideas.

Let me explain.  this book prompted me to consider several of the differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs that I had not been aware of.  It also reminded me of my strong conviction that we are saved by grace through faith.  We are not saved by grace through faith and works.  I cannot do anything that will save me.  One of the other very interesting theological ideas brought up in the book is that Christ only had to die once for our sins.  If we believe that any works, whether attending a church service or anything else, beyond God's grace is needed, then we nullify Christ's death on the cross.  

While prompting me to think about these theological ideas, this book also educated me in the history of Europe during the 1500s.  I had no idea that life was so difficult for protestants.  Several years ago, I watched the movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes.  That was when I realized what Luther did.  Prior to Luther, normal people could not read the Bible.  Luther translated it into German and in effect unified the German language.  He went against the Pope and had to translate it in secret.  For some reason, I had never considered what life was like for people who believed Luther's teachings.  It was very difficult all over Europe for people who believed what the reformers taught about Christ.  

It is always very interesting to me to realize that the same controversies that troubled people centuries ago are still around.  The controversies have different main characters and the ideas are a little tweaked, but they are similar nonetheless.  The belief that we are saved by grace through faith is important for us and our children to know and fully understand.  I look forward to when my daughters will enter middle school and read this book.  I look forward to the spiritual discussions that I hope it will prompt.

I do want to mention that there is a descriptive list at the beginning of the story of all of the characters.  I referred to this helpful list several times as I read the story.  At the end, there is an author's note about how much is true in the story, a list of reliable references, and a glossary of terms.  All of these were good additions and answered questions I had as I read the book.  I had sincerely wondered how much was true from the story and how Ms. Carr had created this story of Olympia Morata.  This book is one of historical fiction that contains a lot of truth and is based on true events.    

I highly recommend this book--to both children, grades six and up, as well as adults. It is one of a series published by P&R publishing.  If you or your children enjoy it, I would look into the others!  

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book from P&R Publishing for review, but all of these opinions stated in this review are honest and entirely my own.  

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