I can't remember which highschool English teacher made me read it, but I know that I hated it then. I thought it was a stupid book, and having to read it was a waste of my time and energies. The language was archaic, with everybody saying "thou" and "thine." I guess you could say that I had very little appreciation for literary art. I doubt that I read all of it, but no doubt read enough to take the test...so to say I had ingested its full potential would be folly.
It's been on my mind alot lately. In fact, a lot of the classics have been. Maybe I'm gearing up for a series on faith in the classics, who knows. So...at least 22 years, maybe even 25 years, after I read it for the first time, I picked it back up, and read it again. I still couldn't get through the prologue; something about a customs house...something, something, something...yada, yada, yada. But once I got into the storyline, I actually found myself enjoying it. I'll admit, though, this time I had an agenda.
This time, I was reading this book looking for grace. It had to be there somewhere. I mean, surely Hawthorne wouldn't create such a condemned character without making, for her, a path to grace. There had to be, on at least one of those pages, a sentence, or maybe a whole paragraph, where he had written for her a scene of forgiveness.
It had been so long since I read her story that I had forgotten the vast majority of it. I remembered what she was forced to wear, and I remember the baby. I had a vague recollection of the Rev. Dimmesdale, although I couldn't remember his name, but I had totally forgotten the rest of the details. Each new page, then, became a hopeful source for the grace I was looking for.
Honestly, I didn't expect to find it in the townsfolk. As long as they kept pointing out her sin, they didn't have to focus on their own, and the sad commentary is that this remains true today. I certainly didn't expect to find it within the clergy ranks in that community. After all, Puritanism was the rule of the day. I had thought that certainly, though, she would at last come to the point where forgiveness of self could take place; and it almost did in one scene, but then she was forced to pick it up again, and pin it back in place.
This time, I remember thinking how sad this story really was. The grace that I searched for was elusive at best. But still, it had to be there. Page after page, I looked. Then I found it. The grace that had eluded me for 293 pages finally made itself known. It seems that Hester had made an escape after the minister's death, but years later, decided to come back. As she did, the token that she had worn for years didn't have the same effect. This time it was awed and revered, and I honestly don't know why, but that's what the book says.
Hester found grace, I think, through all of those troubled souls who now came to her seeking counsel. Because of what she had been through, they knew that she would understand, and would not judge them. She had spent her entire adult life seeking repentance, dealing with legalism, guilt, and shame, and finally began to find some forgiveness.
It's a beautiful commentary on what is important to society, and it makes me ask so many questions. Why do we choose one or two sins to focus on, when scripture says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Why do we choose one or two people, or even a group of people, as objects of hate because of something they have done? Why is the church so quick to judge, and slow to forgive? If we were to forgive as we have been forgiven, what would that look like? Can we forgive ourselves even if the rest of the world won't?
For me, and this is just Jamie, the grace that she found was that God was able to take her one moment of weakness and use it to help so many others. If God could do that for Hester, God can do that for Jamie, and for you.