Meaning no disrespect to Jan Karon, it's not necessarily the writing that draws me into these books. As a matter of fact, after you've read a few of them, you could almost write a parody full of some too-often-repeated phrases like "his good dog," "Consider it done," and "Well done!" Throw in a bit of nature description (not as bad as Hessie Mayhew's, of course), a Reader's Digest joke, and a couple of coincidences, and consider it done. It doesn't seem too complicated. You can read an excerpt from Out to Canaan here.
It's not the writing. It's the feeling that--book after book--I am being personally ministered to as I read them. Not preached at, although some people might feel that way. It's a sense that a lot of the people in these books, although they have their struggles too, have their spiritual acts together, and that you can learn an awful lot by hanging around them for awhile. Even if you disagree with some of the theology--and I actually like it that the main character is a priest in a liturgical church. It does away, right away, with some of the Bible Belt stereotypes (not everybody in the South is Baptist). I like it that, even in a small town, there are several churches, and that there's even some church-hopping among them; people aren't bound to one or another for life. I like it that Father Tim has lunch at the diner with the same two guys for twenty years, and that it's still only in the last book that he gets into any serious God-talk with one of them. That's called extreme patience.
I like the way these people pray with each other. I like the way some of the characters move towards faith, and the places God takes them. I like the way Father Tim draws on Scripture. I like the way he manages to talk to some of the difficult and unlovely people, and to genuinely love them even if his responses are of the "Imagine that" variety. I like his struggles to get into e-mail. I like the way he buys lipstick--he even remembers the favourite shade--for an old lady's Christmas present. I like it that he adores his wife with such passion. I like it that many of the people in the book--including Father Tim and his wife--aren't quite as young as they once were, and that they deal with some very relevant issues of aging.
I like the hard-won words of wisdom that come in one of his sermons:
"Some of us have been in trying circumstances these last months. Unsettling. Unremitting. Even, we sometimes think, unbearable. Dear God, we pray, stop this! Fix that! Bless us--and step on it!....I started with the Christmas book Shepherds Abiding, several books in. I didn't realize it followed so closely on the heels of In This Mountain, the book that contains the sermon I just referred to. Those two books together are my favourite of the series: In This Mountain because of its struggles and triumphant faith; and Shepherds Abiding because of its beauty. It's something like an unexpected sunny winter day (today) after days of unending storms; it's like snow on Christmas Eve, and a candle in the window. Like Good Friday and Easter, it's difficult to fully appreciate the second one without having experienced the first.
"I want to tell you that I started thanking Him last night--this morning at two o'clock, to be precise--for something that grieves me deeply. And I'm committed to continue thanking Him in this hard thing, no matter how desperate it might become, and I'm going to begin looking for the good in it."
And in fact, I wouldn't have cared if the series had ended there. For me, that was enough. But there is still Light from Heaven to read.