Spirituality, Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen‘s Sense & Sensibility is a light romantic comedy, just right for a night out after a busy week, and last Friday I really enjoyed Gallery 7’s opening performance. Live local theatre is a wonderful part of our community, and I highly recommend this show to anyone in the area.

Along with the romance and humour, Jane Austen also hints at the darker side of  life in late eighteenth century England. A key part of the story is the inheritance laws that displace a widow and her three daughters from their own home, and this is complicated by the rigid view of social class and the fear of poverty that made “marrying well” a priority for both men and women.

In the play, “sense” is represented by Elinor, the level-headed older sister who is  practical and utterly reliable, who is reserved and always minds her manners. In contrast, “sensibility” is represented by her younger sister, Marianne, who is spontaneous and follows her heart, who freely expresses her emotions and speaks her mind. But Austen’s title is not sense or sensibility but sense and sensibility–in the course of the play, Marianne realizes that love is more than superficial feeling, and she comes to love the suitor she dismissed earlier as too old and uninteresting; and Elinor reveals that she is both practical and a woman of deep feeling. Sense and sensibility both have their part to play.

Austen’s social commentary might apply just as well to the life of the spirit. Some may value good sense–faith that is practical, orderly, with intellectual integrity, preferring well-reasoned sermons, prayers in complete sentences, songs with theological depth.  Others may value sensibility–faith that comes from the heart, that is warm and spontaneous, preferring stories over reasons, prayers and songs that stir the emotions.

In Romans 12, faith is both. On the practical side: we are to renew our minds, not to be conformed to the world, not to think too highly of ourselves, to assist others in need, to practice hospitality, to live in harmony with others. And yet faith is also full of feeling:  with genuine love, enthusiasm, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep. To use Austen’s language, faith is both sense and sensibility. I or anyone might resonate with one side more than the other at different points in life, but like both Elinor and Marianne, by God’s grace we can keep growing and changing toward greater health and wholeness.

Your turn: I’ve never actually read the book, but I’ve seen the film directed by Ang Lee which is a beautiful rendition, and I enjoyed the play. Have you read/seen Sense & Sensibility? Any thoughts?



Categories: Spiritual Practice

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