Literature Epiphanies

Date posted: Tuesday 09 March 2021

Literature is a gift from God that engages us in perspectives and stories beyond our own, engaging all of our senses and emotions. As the great literary artist F. Scott Fitzgerald is reputed to have said, “This is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”1


Along with eight of my peers, I am in one of the cohorts for rostered ministers—the Second Act Cohort—that is funded by our synod’s Thriving in Ministry grant from the Lilly Endowment. This year, as part of our work through this grant, we were invited to engage members of our congregations in a deeper study of scripture. My mind went immediately to literature. Could a novel open our disciples’ hearts to deeper understanding of God’s people and God’s kingdom dream of love, hope, justice and peace for this world?


This past fall, a small group of women from my congregation gathered weekly for six weeks to discuss the novel American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. We read chapters ahead of time to discuss for each week, taking it bit by bit so we could have deep conversations about the plot, characters, and geopolitical context of Mexico and the United States, particularly around the cartels and undocumented migration. We incorporated scripture, ELCA social statements and data from Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services (LIRS) into our reading and conversations.


Following the words of the 20th century theologian Karl Barth, preachers in our tradition are often taught to “hold the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” We followed this paradigm, remembering that we are both/and people. Through the gift of literature, we engaged in this work a little differently and our eyes and hearts were opened to the complexity of immigration within the United States. We re-discovered the universal longings that Fitzgerald spoke of, and together found a new and deeper understanding of how God has called us as disciples here and now to be engaged in God’s kingdom work for God’s people and the world.


The Rev. Amanda Simons
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran, St. Paul


Pastor Amanda is part of the synod's Lilly-funded Second Act Cohort for rostered ministers in years four to 10 of public ministry. The cohort is formed around a set of convictions about the center of the pastoral vocation: deep reflection on one’s life and world; practice of lifelong, careful study of scripture; ability to work gracefully with lay leaders; disciplined curiosity about context, community and self; and relationships with mentors to encourage and reinforce those habits. 



1 Sheilah Graham, Beloved Infidel: The Education of a Woman (Henry Holt and Company, 1958).