Bible · faith · LIterature

A Prayer For Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

I can’t remember how I first started reading John Irving, but for a few years I devoured everything he wrote. Some of his novels have been made into films, some of which are good – I enjoyed The Hotel New Hampshire as far as I remember. Probably my favourite of his books is A Prayer For Owen Meany, which was adapted for film under the name ‘Simon Birch’ – which was pretty awful. It’s a shame when such a volcanic book doesn’t translate to the screen.

Anyway, VERY briefly, A Prayer For Owen Meany is about destiny. Or even predestination if you can handle that. Owen Meany has a destiny that he is somehow aware of, but without knowing what that destiny is precisely.

As well as being a profound book, it also has (in common with all of John Irving’s Novels) some hilarious laugh out loud passages. In Owen Meany there is a wonderful description of a Christmas Pageant in which Owen plays the baby Jesus. (Just so you kow, Owen is very short, which makes it possible for him to fit into a manger)

This is how the book begins: ‘I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice — not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.’

Anyway … what brought Owen Meany to mind this morning was reading John 1:29-34

29 The next day John (the Baptiser) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

What stuck out for me was the repeated phrase ‘I myself did not know him.’ This is an ‘Owen Meany’ story. (Or Owen Meany is a John the Baptiser story) John, like Owen Meany, had a destiny, but he didn’t know exactly what it was. He had known that his call was to preach and baptise, but he didn’t really know the bigger reason why. His destiny was to be the one who would baptise Jesus. And Jesus had to be baptised. That was central to the revealing of Jesus as God’s Anointed One, God’s Son. Jesus had to be baptised because it is as he is baptised that he is revealed.

The Spirit descends on him and the Voice from heaven announces ““This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3 verse 17

This is awesome. If you love Owen Meany, as I do, you’ll know what I mean. There is something that is at the same time remarkable, mysterious, and beautiful about those moments when everything comes together, and you begin to grasp (or be grasped by) some sense of a pattern, or a reason for the way things are.

As Jesus approaches, John suddenly knows … this is why I was called to preach and baptise. This is THE moment that my whole life has been leading up to.


Grace and Peace.

2 thoughts on “A Prayer For Owen Meany

  1. Thank you Jonathan. It would never have occurred to me to read John Irving, he’s always struck me as a man’s writer, but you have convinced me to give it a go. The wow moments in life are so precious.


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