We were first introduced to the writing of Adrian Plass sometime in the mid-90’s, when a friend loaned us her copy of The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Aged 37 3/4. Since she had picked it up in England when she was there, she was afraid we wouldn’t be able to find it here. But through amazon.com, I was able to purchase our own copy.
We enjoyed it so much that I started looking for anything else written by Plass. Pretty soon we had half a dozen books, including the hilarious Theatrical Tapes of Leo Thynn, which I have repeatedly seen on clearance but I don’t understand why, because it’s a great little book.
When The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Christian Speaker, Aged 45 3/4 was published a few years ago I eagerly got a copy. It was very good, but somehow not quite as funny as the first Sacred Diary. Of course, I don’t just read Plass’s books to be entertained, but also to learn from his perspective about God and the Christian life. Perhaps in the second Diary he said more that was profound but not as rib-splittingly funny.
If so, then maybe that explains why I also didn’t laugh a lot at his latest book, The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, on Tour: Aged Far Too Much to Be Put on the Front Cover of a Book. Or maybe it’s just me – my husband certainly laughed a lot while he was reading it. I smiled several times while reading it, but little struck me as laugh-out-loud funny.
The character of Adrian Plass in the diaries is not the same person as Adrian Plass the writer, though I’m sure some of the foibles that Plass the writer ascribes to Plass the character are his own – no doubt exaggerated for comical effect. All of the characters are exaggerated, no doubt, except perhaps Plass-the-character’s wife Anne. She is wise, patient, and kind – but not beyond getting irritated with her husband’s occasional (frequent?) idiocy.
Other characters include the clueless but always well-meaning Leonard Thynn, wise-cracking and flippant (but also wise) son Gerald, and an assortment of Christian and non-Christian acquaintances. Since Plass is writing to gently chide Christians for the ways we so often fall short by majoring on the minors, the Christian characters mostly represent one or another common failing. (Plass-the-character is often the prime example of these.)
In this latest book, the primary don’t-follow-this-example-of-how-to-be-a-Christian is Barry, who spouts Bible verses at every opportunity and holds forth at length on spiritual matters. He is very earnest, but also very insensitive to the feelings of people around him. To him, the answer to every problem is a Bible verse and its appropriate application to life. Anne points out to him one time that he is completely right in what he says about the Bible and what it teaches – and at the same time completely wrong in how he applies it to a specific situation.
There are a variety of examples I could point to, both with Barry and other characters, but the one on my mind right now is from near the end of the book, when the Plasses and their friends are sitting around imagining what heaven would be like if it were the way each person would most like it to be. Barry, momentarily dropping his Bible-quoting persona, imagines walking the dogs on a beautiful early summer morning before anyone else is up and he is alone in the middle of nature on his own. The look on his face is “utter rapture” as he imagines this.
Then he suddenly remembers that the greatest joy for the Christian is supposed to be the presence of God, and dutifully asserts this truth. Yet the joy has gone out of him, and Gerald – for once not the least bit flippant – exclaims how sad it is that Barry feels that it was only when he left God out of the picture that he contemplated real happiness, and the joy left when he put God back in the picture. That wonderful picture Barry imagined is wonderful because God made it, and God would love to go strolling along with Barry on that beautiful summer morning.
It makes me feel sad too – mostly because I think I have similar thoughts to Barry’s. I love going walking by myself, especially in the evening when it is quiet and the light is fading (I don’t do early mornings – too hard to get myself out of bed then). It is so peaceful and refreshing. I do sometimes imagine Jesus walking along next to me, and try to carry on some sort of conversation with Him, but after a while I lapse into silence and just enjoy the walk.
Thinking of spending time with God puts me more in mind of trying to pray and not thinking of much to say, or reading the Bible and thinking “I’ve read this before and it says the same thing it did last time” and wondering how much time I need to spend on it before I can go read something I enjoy. The thought of being in the presence of God in heaven is a good one – but that’s because I know then I will be cleansed from sin and will find my ultimate joy in being with Him, even if that doesn’t happen here very often.
I try to look for God’s blessings in the little things of life – a beautiful spring day, shared laughter with a friend, a warm puppy. As Gerald points out, there’s no such thing as a secular sunset or a Christian sunset – trying to divide our lives into the spiritual part and the rest of life is a false dichotomy. But when I hear people talk about how wonderful their time with God is, my enjoyable evening walks don’t seem to measure up very well.
Just today on worldmagblog, one person asked “How do you experience your relationship with God?” and I simply couldn’t think of an answer. Everything I experience is somehow affected by/affecting my relationship with God, but I don’t necessarily experience it as an aspect of my relationship with God – that’s my reflecting on it theologically when I think about my experiences, not while I’m experiencing them. I’ve tried, sometimes, to think about God as often as I can throughout the day, but even when I’m more successful at that than at other times, I’m not sure that’s really deepening my relationship with Him any.
At the moment I feel a bit melancholy, thinking about this. Or maybe I am just feeling tired and need to stop thinking about it and go to bed. What Plass’s writing reminds me is not to bash myself over the head for not feeling or thinking the right way, but to find comfort in knowing that God loves me anyway, more than I can even imagine.