Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Although this work was marketed as Christian fiction and published by an evangelical press, it differs greatly from most devotional novels. It has much more in common with regional southern novels such as Olive Ann Burns’s Cold Sassy Tree (1984). Religious elements certainly lie in the background of the narrative—many hymns are quoted, and the women attend religious gatherings—but the novel rarely engages Christianity directly.

Trobaugh’s title highlights a Christian view of love. The book uses John 1:29 (“Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”) as an epigram, but the title also echoes 2 Samuel 12:3 (an allegory in which a man holds a lamb in his bosom) and Isaiah 40:11 (“He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom”). In these verses from the Old Testament, the lamb lies in the bosom of another. Trobaugh’s title reverses the relationship and has humans resting in the bosom of the lamb, who is Jesus. In a conversation that Pet has with one of Cora’s friends, they discuss how Jesus “is like a mama to us,” and humans “learn to love ourselves ’cause our mamas loved us.” The characters experience the love of God and of Jesus through their communion with one another and their shared maternal experiences. Furthermore, building on the quotation from John, the lamb image conveys a forgiving love, especially soothing to Pet’s troubled conscience.

Above all, the novel explores transitions in family relationships. The camp meeting the women attend used to attract a large crowd of families, but now most pews are empty. After Miss Addie dies, her house becomes a funeral parlor. The women, all of whom are approaching their deaths, wrestle with the question of their legacy. By closing with Samantha as the family heir, the novel alludes to the Christian concept of the communion of the saints. Although time will bring an earthly finality to the lives of these women, through God’s care, their family will endure, evidenced by the “Family Book” in which Cora adds Pet’s stories to those of her own family. Because all the characters will eventually rest in the bosom of the lamb, their communion with one another will be eternal.