I have recently finished reading the latest work by the Rev. K. Brewster Hastings entitled A Certain Kind of Affection (you can find this book on Amazon here). This is his second published book of fiction, his first is a novel entitled The Only Way Out for Henry Clatt, and is a collection of short stories.
I have known Father Hastings for many years. He is an Anglican Christian priest and the rector of Saint Anne’s Church in Abington, PA, and was my pastor for the years I spent as a parishioner there. As it turns out, Fr. Hastings is the only published author of fiction whose works I have read that I have known personally. I believe that this affords me a unique view and perspective of his writing that another reader may not have. While another reader may appreciate his writing in his own way, I find Fr. Hastings’ words a little more intimate and personal than I would of other writers. I have spoken with Fr. Hastings many times and have been blessed to hear many of his sermons over the years. As a result, when I read his fiction, I cannot help but recognize many of his word choices or turns of phrase or descriptions of people, places, and/or things as something that can only be described as “very him.” Indeed, my internal ears heard many of the lines of his books in his voice while I read them. Perhaps knowing Fr. Hastings personally colors my view of his writing, but rather I think it allows me to appreciate his writing in a deeper way.
This brings me to A Certain Kind of Affection. The book is a slim volume which consists of several short stories. As one reads through the stories of the book, each story presents a main character different from the previous story, ranging from a monastic novice, to a disabled man, to a little girl, to a thirty-something woman, to a bishop. Perhaps expectedly, considering Fr. Hastings is a clergyman, each main character encounters with God/spirituality in his or her own way in his or her own circumstance; through this device, Fr. Hastings draws out the reality that, whether one wants to admit or acknowledge it or not, God will meet someone where he is no matter who or where he is in a way that speaks to him.
The real strength and attraction of the stories lies in the emotional and spiritual depth of the characters. It would seem Fr. Hastings’ experience in pastoral contexts over his many years in ministry helped him understand and really bring out the emotional and spiritual reality of the characters. Further, if I may say so as someone who was once in Fr. Hastings’ spiritual flock, one of his strengths as a pastor is his ability to empathize with the emotional states in which people find themselves, and this strength is on display in this book in how the characters are presented.
I found it interesting that the stories did not preach or judge the characters regarding their spirituality. In other words, the flaws and/or imperfections and/or misunderstanding (or whatever term one wishes to use) the characters have regarding God and/or spirituality is presented merely as the reality of that person at that moment without a judgment on it. Instead, the stories present people, in their individual context and extent of spiritual development, honestly and realistically wrestling with his or her own spirituality in his or her own way, each revealing God intervening in their lives in ways unique to each character.
Interestingly, the various stories do not really come to a tidy conclusion that ties up all of the loose ends of the plots. Instead, each shows a window into someone’s life at a specific moment in a person’s spiritual development, but leaves the reader to wonder how the characters will wind up at the end. This seems intentional as the purpose of the book, and its stories, seems to be, as implied above, simply giving a vignette of various people of various types in various times and situations encountering God and spirituality and working through it in those brief moments. It allows the reader to identify with the characters as, I would think, most people have found themselves with the thoughts and feelings presented in each of the characters at one time or another. The stories, I think, help the reader identify the moments of his own spiritual life and development in those of the characters in the stories. The encounters with the divine in the stories are sometimes obvious and other times subtle, but always identifiable and relatable. At the end of each story, the reader is often left with a knowing recognition of the spiritual component in each story as something he can identify with in his own life as well.
Ultimately, I would recommend this book of short stories to anyone who is interested in reading short, compelling, punchy stories which involve realistic people encountering God in ways that should seem familiar to us all. May God have mercy on us all that when he does encounter us, we respond to him with acceptance and surrender.