I just finished reading Jodi Picoult’s novel “Keeping Faith.” I always enjoy reading her novels, although it’s really her writing I enjoy, because her topics are not a lot of fun and often rather disturbing. She draws me in to her characters’ worlds, and makes me care about what happens to them, even though many of them are either rather unpleasant people or regular people caught up in impossibly unpleasant situations.
In “Keeping Faith” I found the same enjoyment in her writing, and her characters were a great collection of mismatched people. Faith, of the title, is a seven year old girl who starts communicating with an “imaginary friend.” Her “friend” turns out to be not her “guard” as she first tells her mother, but her God. I love this little twist, having Faith misunderstand what God is saying and hear “guard” instead.
More significantly, though, Faith’s God turns out to be a woman! The female form of God naturally gets a lot of attention from the other characters in the story, and no doubt is a challenge to many readers. I found the theological debates on the part of the priests and the rabbi regarding the possibility of God appearing in female form to be a bit unsatisfactory. For me, the best comment comes from Faith’s Jewish grandmother: “I always wondered why God was supposed to be a father. … Fathers always want you to measure up to something. Mothers are the ones who love you unconditionally, don’t you think?” How true!
This idea of a mother God is not unfamiliar to me, as it has recently become a topic of intense discussion in my own faith community. Not to replace the Father God with a Mother Goddess, but to view God as the harmonious unity of Father and Mother. Picoult’s novel doesn’t go that far, but Faith’s female God is certainly a good God.
The less inspiring aspect of this story for me was the way it depicted a seven year-old as having no religious concepts at all. Granted, her parents are non-believers, one from a Jewish family (her mother, so that makes Faith Jewish) and the other Christian. It seems that Faith’s only experience of religion came at school when some classmates terrified her by saying that she would go to hell since she hadn’t been baptized. That is certainly plausible given the prohibition on religious activities in state schools. Still, I found it a sad commentary on American society that children such as Faith can be portrayed as having never even heard of Jesus or God by any name.