Plain and Simple
As many of you know, I’m in the process of developing my first (historical) Amish series–The Riverhaven Years. The first book, Rachel’s Secret, was released last year, and Book Two, Where Grace Abides, is now being readied for release October 1.
For months now, I’ve been steeped in research in addition to the writing itself–always part of the program for a new project. For years up until I began working with the Riverhaven series, most of my research had been focused on an in-depth study of the Irish and Irish-American immigration experience. I fully expected the concentration on the Amish lifestyle and culture to be quite a departure from what I’d been accustomed to–and in many areas, it has been.
But I’ve also run into some surprising similarities. Because I’m still writing in an historical time frame, one of the areas I first delved into was an accounting of why and when the Amish first came to America. What I discovered was that persecution was a major factor in their leaving Europe, beginning as early as the 1700s. Among other “offenses,” the “Anabaptists” refused to merge in community with their non-Amish neighbors, baptize their infants, swear oaths, or serve in the military. Consequently, some were imprisoned, sometimes branded with hot irons, sent to other countries as slaves, and threatened with death.
Although the reasons differed, they shared some of the same motivations for making the harrowing journey to America as did the Irish. Their unflagging desire to practice their religion in peace and to escape oppression and persecution gave them the courage to endure the overcrowded ships, rotting food supplies, disease, and storms at sea. But, also like the Irish, even their settlements in the New World weren’t free from the plague of persecution that had haunted them in Europe. The hatred, the prejudice, the fear, and misunderstanding of those who are “different” from the established culture continued to shadow them wherever they went.
And yet they persevered. They formed their communities, retained their fundamental values and lifestyle, rejected conformity with the “world,” and kept their interpretations of their separatist beliefs beyond compromise.
One of the questions I’m often asked in interviews and by readers has to do with the ongoing interest and curiosity about the Amish lifestyle and faith. Why do the “English” (a common term the Amish use to identify those outside the Amish church) continue to read so widely about the Amish, visit their communities, and continue to be fascinated by their unassuming Amish neighbors? What accounts for the seemingly endless curiosity about the “Plain People”?
I think it has much to do with our contemporary society’s yearning for a simpler lifestyle, to return to a time when life–at least as seen from today’s lens–seemed more basic, less harried and frantic. We admire the faith and “plain” culture of the Amish, even though we admit to ourselves that we wouldn’t be capable of living as they do, at least not for any length of time. It tugs at the nostalgia that sometimes settles over us and finds us wishing we could live in another place, in another way–a way that would ground us more deeply in community, in simplicity, and in our faith.
I’ve often felt that same tug myself. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy so much the study and research and “world building” that go into this venture of writing novels set among the Amish communities, and why I genuinely hope my readers–Amish and “English” alike–continue to enjoy the stories that emerge from that research and from God’s gift of imagination.