A Song I Knew by Heart by Bret Lott is a modern-day retelling of the Biblical story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz from the Old Testament book of Ruth. This first-person fiction is told by Naomi who has been living in Massachusetts for eight years with her son and his wife Ruth.
When Ruth’s husband dies in a traffic accident, Naomi decides to return to South Carolina where she and Eli, her deceased husband, grew up and married. Naomi’s motives for moving home are in part to escape a terrible secret, and her best friend who knows the secret from Naomi’s past. Ruth begs to go with her mother-in-law, and reluctantly Naomi agrees, if only to make the travel easier.
Ruth grieves for her husband, and hopes to find comfort and peace with his family. It is Naomi who has the most difficulty adjusting to the move. Her secret has changed her. She is no longer the person everyone in South Carolina remembers. Naomi is estranged from God because of the guilt and shame she’s harboring, while Ruth searches for the God her mother-in-law is studiously avoiding. Healing for both women comes through hospitality, the power of family, and their “Redeemer Kinsman.”
The relationship between Ruth and Naomi seems remarkable and even unbelievable in today’s culture, but the story reminds me of how powerfully God works through our families and our faith communities. A Song I Knew by Heart is a book about Christian hospitality that goes much beyond Martha Stewart. Welcoming, caring for, and loving the hurting strangers among us, like Lott’s fictional characters, transforms both the hosts and the guests, just as it did with the biblical Ruth and Naomi.