Hey, you like to read, right? You want to sit back, heat up a tasty beverage, and plant your derriere in a comfortable chair or bed, kick off your shoes and "dive in." You can't wait for the next installment of the series that has kept you from cleaning the kitchen or vacuuming out the cereal from the car floorboards. I know, I've been there. Most avid readers, like you, are pretty committed. It MAY even be the only reason I take a bath! Anyway ...
I don't know what KIND of stories you like, but I thought I'd tell you about my friend Matt, who reads anything he can get his hands on; once he said he was trying to make up for lost time as a youth. He became pretty devoted! He even really outdid himself by continuously reading one classic after another! But alas, he tried Dostoyevsky. That's pretty amazing; tough stuff. He then readily admitted to the frustration of reading said author. This was some time ago, but I saved his exact words because they made me giggle: “I really tried. I think I was cursed by my motives on this one. I just wanted to be able to say that I had read a Russian novelist. I got through chapter one, and I was toast. So I suppose I can always say, ‘Dostoevsky? Sure, I've read a little!’”
How about you? Have YOU read Dostoyevsky? If so, you are now my hero. Really, really. I'm actually just using him as a diving board into chatting about just a few works of a different Russian author.
Stay with me! (It's really worth it, I promise...)
Yes, this post is indeed in line with being a scripture scout. What I’m going to do is to go out on a limb here and propose that, if you haven't already, you give another Russian author a try: Leo Tolstoy. Yeah, the War and Peace guy. No really, hang on! Mr. Tolstoy thought, according to his own words, that if he could somehow orchestrate his stories correctly, the modern man (in his time) would be touched and challenged and maybe, with “luck," somewhat changed. Tolstoy experienced much loss at a tender age, was a farmer, fought in the Crimean war, and at one point, kind of a rich guy who didn't often handle his money very well. In his later years, his views on peaceful conflict had a significant influence on Mahatma Gandhi! He passed from heart failure only four years before my paternal grandmother was born.
Here is where you and I can relate: Tolstoy was a believer with oh, so many flaws. So, besides personal enlightenment, the reason for reading some of his work would be for the express purpose of being a scripture scout! You might be interested to find biblical teachings in his stuff and see where you can spot Jesus. I'm serious! I mean, you don’t have to read War and Peace or Anna Karenina just yet. Tolstoy has some great short stories. And they are in public domain, so they're free! These are the last four in my favourite collection.
Here we go.
- How Much Land Does a Man Need? The thought occurred to me while reading this is that owning land is like holding onto the air. And if we fail to understand our “daily”-ness or have a problem with pride, however slight, our possessions can own us. I didn’t think I had a problem with this until I read this story. Toward the middle he says, “Why should I suffer in this narrow hole, if one can live so well elsewhere?” Keep this in mind when you get to the end. Read Isaiah 13, Matthew 6:19, and Luke 12:13-21 after diving into that one.
- The Death of Ivan Ilych: Okay, so here is where I learned the great word “ennui” for the first time. But ALSO….after reading this story, I pondered these questions: What are some of the reasons I fear giving my life completely to God? Which areas of my life am I most reluctant to surrender? In what ways have I experienced the heavy burden of trying to remain in control of my life? I thought the quote, “It’s only a bruise...” was the crux of the story. Also, something to keep in mind: “…and a little child shall lead them…” Definitely read these verses after your time with Ivan: Proverbs 29:11, Isaiah 11:6, 1 Peter 1:3 & 5:8, and 2 Peter 1:5-9
- Master and Man: “He did not know whether he was dying or falling asleep, but felt equally prepared for the one as for the other.” This story is about a man whose pronouns suddenly change to “we” and “our” instead of “me," “my," or “I” through an unlikely turn of events in his life. Read Matthew 6:19-21 BEFORE or AFTER reading this moving story. Oh, and it has chapters. Fair warning, it is short, but not THAT short. :-)
- The Three Hermits: Here Tolstoy crafts into words an old legend in the Volga District of Russia. Notice the words “see, “seeing," “eyesight," etc. Read Matthew 6:7-8 BEFORE reading this story. I love this story! I puts every one of the others in perspective!
Read Leo when you get a moment or two. You'll be glad you did.
I believe that Mr. Tolstoy’s definition of charity HAD to have been to reach far beyond the natural human being and instead poke into his or her own soul. Maybe if you get a chance to peruse Tolstoy you can also proclaim as my friend once did, “Tolstoy? Sure, I’ve read a little!” and you won't be stretching the truth at all! And I'll bet you see a surprising amount of Jesus in these classic writings of character and purpose.
Now, I'd love for YOU to tell ME (and anyone else who is reading!) in the comments below (under the TSS fingerprint) about a non-Biblical author that helped you see Jesus and understand spirituality clearer than you expected.