shepherd's abiding by jan karon book cover

Cozy Christmas in Mitford

Author: Jan Karon

Christmas in Mitford is just around the corner and Father Tim is finding renewed happiness in an old memory – one of the few good memories of his own father. It centers on the peaceful preparations of Christmas and a nativity set, every day moving the wise men closer to the manager across the living room, thinking about their ultimate journey to an infant who brings love and grace into the world.

As Christmas gets closer and Father Tim is lost to the bliss of snow, his good dog, and his loving wife, a battered nativity set appears at the local antique store, scarred and adorned with some garish paint; yet under all the neglect the beauty and hope still shines. Can a man who has happily lived the life of the mind find joy in working with his hands, lovingly reshaping these forgotten symbols of Christmas?

angel statuesMeanwhile, the Grill gets ready for its retirement bash as Percy and the local news anchor begin a food fueled feud. Hope finds new love and a daring adventure as she seeks to restore the local bookshop and put faith in God’s choices for her, Lew Boyd gets tired of carrying a secret, and Uncle Billy tries to think of the perfect gift idea for Rose.

Mitford shines brightest in Shepherd’s Abiding, in the soft glows of Christmas lights and new fallen snow. Admittedly, the chilly holiday season isn’t a favorite with me (I dislike bare trees and dead earth covered with cold snow), but Karon captures the warmth, the magic, the happiness of the season in its truest and most beautiful form. We already know and love these characters and are excited to see them here, at a time of active and happy rest. Some of the harsher topics they’ve had to accept – Father Tim’s feelings about his own father, his runaway diabetes, the sadness after friends and family pass onward, are quieted for a time as the little village of Mitford prepares for a celebration. There are plenty of foibles and laughs along the way, and even more scenes of scented trees and warm coffees in mittened hands.

Shepherd’s Abiding is one of my favorite Mitford novels so far. It just hits the right chord continually, and readers become invested as Father Tim works secretly to restore the nativity so that he can share a childhood joy with his wife (and dog and Violet the cat too). It’s almost enough to make the less handy of us (yours truly – I even find replacing batteries quite the challenge) want to try our hands at restoring a nativity.

candleAnd while the coziness and happiness of the holidays and the joyful time of retrospection and worship that they enable pervades, the story itself keeps going strong. We have several stories running all at once, Father Tim’s of course being the best of them. Hope has come to be a strong presence in her own right and the bibliophiles among us, including those of us who have always cherished a not so secret dream to run a bookshop, will adore the turn her narrative takes.

Father Tim’s buddies and their antics at the Grill, as always, have a starring role and Uncle Billy’s jokes keep the moments in between stories filled with laughter and the brightness of this small town. The imagery in Shepherd’s Abiding eradicates the deadness of winter and instead speaks of new life and a season of transition, of rest. Atmosphere, story, and message all combine here to make this Mitford unforgettable and to give our own weary hearts and minds a rest and a time of rejuvenation where, with the tiredness wiped away, we can clearly see the miracle of everyday things and the beauty of life that, however imperfect, is a great gift.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden

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