Are you really “stepping heavenward” in your Christian life?
Most, if not all, of us have struggled with this question at some time or other. We struggle. We fall down. We get discouraged. Sometimes others are sure we have made progress, when we are only conscious of repeated failures.
Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss is a book that will lift you up, even while it spurs you onward, in the Christian life. Written as the diary of an American girl growing up in the 1830’s, and carrying us through three decades of her life, the tale of Katy, her battles and her victories as she “steps heavenward,” this is a book that won’t leave your life untouched.
- Title: Stepping Heavenward
- Author: Elizabeth Prentiss
- Publisher: Project Gutenberg
- Genre: Vintage Christian Fiction
- Number of Pages: approx. 270
- Theme: Christian growth
- Age Range: Youth/Adult
- Source: Project Gutenberg
What does a Christian’s journey heavenward really look like in daily life? Stepping Heavenward traces the spiritual pilgrimage of Katherine Mortimer, from her first faltering, half-hearted efforts to follow the Lord in her teens to her triumphant and constant fellowship with the Love of God almost thirty years later.
I first read this book maybe six or eight years ago, and as I re-read it for this review I was amazed to realize how many nuggets of truth that I gleaned from this story have come back to me, and influenced my Christian life, during the intervening years. Stepping Heavenward is a story that can’t help challenging you to live a life that is wholly wrapped up in your Lord and Saviour—as well as encouraging you that an all-consuming delight in Him lies within the reach of every Christian.
SAW Rating System
We have recently altered our reviewing system using the model of our poetry grading worksheet. For an explanation of the new system, see our introductory post.
Command of Language—8/10
Impact of the book—9/10
Innocence regarding evil—6/10
Active promotion of good—9/10
Level of spiritual challenge—9/10
Healthy view of life—5/10
Items of Note
Romance and morality
Near the beginning of the story, the heroine becomes involved in a clandestine friendship, and later an engagement, with a man her mother distrusts. The couple grumbles at mother’s chaperonage, and are depicted as liking to sit as near each other as they can. The heroine eventually breaks off the engagement, and is deeply thankful that God prevented her from marrying an ungodly man.
The heroine eventually meets and marries a godly man whom she strongly disliked on first sight but later came to love. Couples being alone together as well as hugging before they are married is seen as appropriate, but not heavily keyed on. The heroine’s personal feelings are articulated in her diary throughout both relationships.
Flirting, and guessing at who will marry whom, are touched on.
Suffering and death of various characters plays a role in the story. Painful medical procedures and blood are also touched on.
Some words such as “gay” and “intemperate” are used in an older, broader, or more innocent sense than they convey today.
The expressions “mercy on us,” “thank Heaven” and “thank God” are used—at least once by a character who has not shown any interest in a spiritual life.
The expression “God only knows” is also used—I think fairly sincerely.
The expressions “fool” and “rich as a Jew” also appear.
Alcohol and drug use (includes tobacco)
Mention is made of snuff.
An ungodly character is described as smoking and drinking.
The story is written from an Evangelical perspective. The spiritual life of the characters forms the main focus of the story. Some of the suggestions for spiritual discipline, etc. are in my opinion matters of personal choice, and a few doctrinal points (such as the passing mention of deceased Christians becoming angel messengers) may not be compelling to all readers. On the whole, the spiritual content is challenging and encouraging.
It may be fair to note, that the heroine grows tremendously through the course of the book. Not all of the opinions expressed at the beginning of the story reflect the author’s final perspective.
At a few places, Biblical phrases are applied to secular circumstances/occurrences.
In times of trouble, the heroine sometimes expresses the wish that she could die, and so escape suffering.
The concept of God sending suffering for our perfection plays a significant role in the story—perhaps to a less-than-wholesome extent at times.
Family roles and behavior
The heroine struggles with a teenage attitude and conflicts with her mother in the earlier chapters of the book.
The heroine’s adjustment to married life is depicted as turbulent at times. She occasionally makes derogatory comments about men, and struggles to balance the concept of wives serving their husbands with husbands honouring their wives. Despite some stormy scenes, she eventually achieves a strong and healthy marriage—attributing it to the power of God in both their lives.
A dysfunctional marriage is briefly shown in another home, where the husband flirts with other women and the wife openly complains about his neglect.
Mention is made of the concept of husbands leaving their wives.
The heroine is apt to express negative opinions about friends and family members in her journal. As she grows spiritually, she repeatedly struggles with her tendency to harsh judgements, and eventually they fade out of her life.
Mature subject matter
Childbirth and nursing are mentioned, but covered very gracefully.
Friends and relations kiss each other with a freedom that would be considered out of place in the modern world, but was typical at the time the story was written.
There are many different versions of Stepping Heavenward available online. I have reviewed the Project Gutenberg edition, because I generally find their editions to be the highest-quality available. I did find, however, that there seemed to be a number of typos (mostly single-word omissions) in their copy of Stepping Heavenward which detracted slightly from the story.
Keep on Stepping Heavenward
It is strange that an author with such a high and uncompromising ideal of the Christian life, should have produced a book suited to encourage even weak, faltering, “baby-Christians” to keep on trying. And yet Stepping Heavenward is a book that conveys a firm sense of belief—belief in the power of God to sanctify the souls He has redeemed, and belief in His unfailing love throughout the process!
If you are looking for a book to challenge a slightly younger audience in their walk with the Lord, see our review:
- The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady—Book Review
- Dear Princess—Book Review