Saving Graces

Hmmm.  It’s been over a month since I’ve posted.  My apologies.  Classes are back in session here at Trinity Christian College, where I teach.  I’ve had many meetings, and I served as a faculty mentor to a group of nineteen incoming freshmen.  But yesterday, I was able to read Saving Graces: The Inspirational Writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Nashville: Brodman and Holman, 1997).

Saving Graces is a short book (164 pages) that reproduces forty-eight of Wilder’s articles and columns from the Missouri Ruralist.  It was edited by Stephen Hines, who also edited the complete collection of the Ruralist material, Laura Ingalls Wilder: Farm Journalist.  In the time that I had to dedicate to the task, I was able to find all but ten of the articles from Saving Graces in Farm Journalist.  For Saving Graces, Hines gave a different title to each article.  He also added an italicized Bible passage, right in the middle of each.  The titles and passages connect the content of the articles to Christian virtues, topics, and themes.  The book also reproduces ten of Wilder’s best loved hymns with music.

One might wonder why, when I was embarking on a project about Wilder’s faith, I didn’t begin with this book, rather than reading twenty some other volumes first.  Well, I came to the project with my own questions about the Little House books, and I wanted to read them before anything else.  Then I worked my way around to Wilder’s other writings, including the Missouri Ruralist articles.  When I got to reading them, I wanted to make my own decisions about which of those articles were helpful in understanding Wilder’s faith.  So I read Farm Journalist.

The articles in Saving Graces are on a variety of topics, including nature, success, childrearing, work, Thanksgiving, and service to others.  Once I had read the book, I looked through my notes from Farm Journalist to see if I had noted that the articles Hines had chosen gave information about Laura’s faith.  It turns out that I had only identified about half of the articles Hines does.

Hines has a brief introduction titled “The Christian Faith of Laura Ingalls Wilder.”  There he references interviews with neighbors of the Wilders, Laura’s lifelong church attendance, and her conversion experience related in Pioneer Girl.  (See Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, edited by Pamela Smith Hill [Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society, 2014], p. 137.) Unfortunately, as he describes the context of that experience, he sets it in Burr Oak, Iowa, when in actuality she was living in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

Perhaps a key to the difference between Hines’s and my idea of what gives evidence of Wilder’s Christianity lies in the book’s subtitle:  The Inspirational Writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  There is certainly a difference between something that mentions the church, Christianity, or Christian ideas (what I was looking for) and what might be termed inspirational.  As a result, there are a number of articles reproduced in Saving Graces that display Wilder’s wisdom, insight, and traditional values.  But I don’t think that they are particularly Christian.  They do sound more Christian when juxtaposed with the Bible verses added by Hines.

I appreciate what Hines was trying to do with the book, and it will encourage readers to consider Wilder’s ideas about life, relationships, and what really matters.  But since there is not really any new material in Saving Graces that I had not already read, I don’t think that my understanding of Wilder’s faith was changed much by it.

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Author: johnfry2013

Chair, Department of History, Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, IL

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