Little WayBooks that demand undivided attention don’t come along every day. Fewer still those that demand not just a reading, but a thinking—half swallowed and chewed again, as we might say in Texas. Rod Dreher’s memoir about his sister, Ruthie is just such a book.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming is not only beautifully written, it is beautifully thought. It is a book of love and loss, leaving and home coming, life and death, hurt and forgiveness, individuality and community, displacement and finding your place, cosmopolitanism and country values, philosophy and simple faith, sadness and joy, a brother and a sister. At its heart, Little Way is about the ordinary life of a southern Louisiana country girl who changed the lives of those she touched, including her brother.

Ruthie Leming was a wife and mother, and a middle school teacher. She spent her entire life—all forty-two years—in the same small Louisiana town, within a stone’s throw of her parent’s home. Her brother Rod escaped small town confinement in his late teens and spent most of his adult life in the sophisticated cities of Washington D.C., New York, Dallas, and Philadelphia. These two different ways of life caused strife between son and father, brother and sister.

Like most families, the Dreher family nursed secret hurts. They, like most, never exposed those wounds while together. But when Ruthie was diagnosed with lung cancer the family could no longer keep their pain buried. Ruthie didn’t desire to accomplish great and noble things—that was Rod’s dream. Yet Ruthie accomplished small things as if they were great and noble—and they were. Her life had a profound effect on those who came into contact with her. Reading about her life reminded me about the life of my baby sister—exuberant and friend to every one she meets. No one, it seemed, walked way from Ruthie Leming the same person before meeting her.

A. W. Tozer wrote “Scientists have lost God among the wonders of the world. Christians have lost God among the wonder of His Word.” Not true in Little Way. Dreher paints a picture of a miracle working God—though the miracle of healing didn’t come to Ruthie—yet we learn through the life of Ruthie that God usually works through little ways. By journeying with Ruthie through her cancer and coming home, Dreher found fresh faith.

Now, some of my evangelical friends will quibble with Dreher’s references to praying to Mary and saints, even to his own deceased sister. They’ll quibble with his emphasis on icons and his mystical approach to faith. But quibble not. Little Way is not a theological way. Ruthie, herself a life-long Methodist, quibbled with her brother’s conversion to Catholicism and later to Orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless there is much we can learn from Dreher’s and Ruthie’s different approaches to faith. In both his intellectual and mystical approach, and her, what even Dreher would call, anti-intellectual and simple approach to faith we discover anew the awesome mystery and sovereignty of God—His inscrutable grace.

Reading Little Way and walking with the Dreher and Leming families through Ruthie’s cancer and death motivates us to keep short accounts with those we love dearest. It motivates us to show mercy and grace to all people—they, after all bear the imago Dei, the image of God. Dreher’s book also motivates us to find the finger of God in the little things of life, for it is in the little way that we find the fulness of life.

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