The Calling of Christian Writers
- Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Sayer quotes the late monk Bede Griffiths, who said: "The figure of Aslan tells us more of how Lewis understood the nature of God than anything else he wrote. It has all the hidden power of majesty and awesomeness which Lewis associated with God, but also all the glory and the tenderness and even the humor which he believed belonged to him, so that children could run up to him and throw their arms around him and kiss him. There is nothing of ‘dark imagination' or fears of devils and hell in this." It is, Griffiths said, "mere Christianity."
The Chronicles of Narnia, written from 1950 to 1956, remain popular, and fully stocked in every Borders bookstore. And yet these popular stories, because they're the products of a mind steeped in Scripture, because they're the fruit of an imagination sent soaring by the Christian gospel, cannot help but be Christian. Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings, have charmed millions with stories that are full of wonder, and profoundly biblical.
Art that Takes Shape in the Christian Mind is Different
Lewis, O'Connor, and Sayers personify the thoughts once espoused by Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. In 1974, in Art and Scholasticism, Maritain said, "Christian art is defined by the one in whom it exists and by the spirit from which it issues." If you want to make Christian art, Maritain exhorted his audience, then simply be Christian and "…make a beautiful work." He told aspiring novelists to "be fully an artist," because, "the artist and the Christian are one …" and art that takes shapes in the Christian mind is different from the art that doesn't.
This reality—that all writers express their worldview—was apparent to Walker Percy. The author of respected literary fiction—The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins… once told an interviewer that, "…as a writer, you have a certain view of man, a certain view of the way [the world] is, and even if you don't recognize it or even if you disavow such a view you can't escape [it]." Percy readily acknowledged that his own critically acclaimed novels, which routinely depicted man "as pilgrim, in transit, in journey…reflected a certain basic orientation toward … Catholic dogma."
Like O'Connor, Percy saw his faith as a literary advantage. It was a way of seeing the world and a system for making sense of it. Christianity gave his stories texture and meaning. Even today, they strike a familiar chord—which is why his books are next to O'Connor's at your nearest Books-A-Million.
For Marilynne Robinson, There's Only Respect for a Great Writer
Any list of the last century's great writers includes O'Connor, Percy, Graham Greene, and Wendell Berry—all Christian, all gifted, and all of them an influential voice in the wider culture. Berry, now in his mid-seventies, remains formidable, still writing and speaking on environmental and agricultural issues.
Beyond him, the list of today's best-known Christian writers includes John Grisham, Jan Karon, Bret Lott—and, course, Marilynne Robinson, the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner (for Gilead). It's no surprise that Robinson, when she talks about faith and vocation, echoes those who came before her. In a recent discussion with Katherine Lanpher, a Barnes & Noble interviewer, Robinson said that, "… There's a theological [undercurrent] to everything I write."
Lanpher pressed her, asking, "How does writing lend itself to a life of faith?"
"I've never found them to be incompatible …." Robinson replied. "Frankly, historically speaking, a great deal of English language literature is generated directly out of religious thought and religious erudition." Then, with words that bring O'Connor and Percy to mind, she said, "For me, a religious mindset creates a habit of scrupulous inquiry relative to virtually everything …." She explained to Lanpher that, "… everything has religious significance. It's not as if I go from one area of interest to another," she said, "they're simultaneous for me."
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