Except for the Bible, I don’t know that I have ever wept in response to a book. But I did yesterday as I finished Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter. This little book is a rare pleasure not just for its literary quality, but for the vision of life that it casts before the reader. Seeing the world through the eyes of the main character Hannah Coulter has caused me to rethink my own vision of things, and she has done so in ways that evoke the very themes of scripture. Here are some of the things this book helped me to see:
1. Hannah Coulter will teach you to number your days. As the old hymn says, “Time like an everflowing stream bears all its sons away.” Our busyness often keeps us from feeling how transitory we really are and from focusing on important things. Yet wisdom—indeed biblical wisdom—would urge us otherwise. Hannah Coulter brings clarity to the bleary-eyed who will not see what they ought to see—that life is a “vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away… So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:10, 12.)
2. Hannah Coulter will urge you to live your life in the present. You do not have the past or the future. All you have is now. What are you doing with your life now? Hannah exhorts us along with the apostle Paul to “make the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).
3. Hannah Coulter encourages you to think of your life as embodied life—life in the real world with real pleasures and real pain. We do not live in a Gnostic world but in a physical one. The world to come is just the same, though we will all live in resurrected glory then. The resurrection and new creation are pervasive themes in this book.
4. Hannah Coulter has a marvelous depiction of forgiveness. The character Hannah describes an encounter that she had as an adult with a woman named Ivy who had mistreated her for many years when Hannah was a child. Read it in Hannah’s own words (pp. 103-104).
If I were to try to enumerate all the reasons you should read this book, the list would be as long as my arm. So I won’t do that. If you need more encouragement, take a look at the reasons Russell Moore gives for reading this book. In any case, you really should read this book. It is available right now as a free download from ChristianAudio.com or you can order the print version here.