Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A book to meditate over

I have just started reading Marilynne Robinson's When I was a Child I read Books (the title alone is worth the purchase price). Robinson is the author of Gilead and Home, novels of rich beauty and seering insight. She is a Congregationalist and has been a teacher and writer in residence at various universities across the States. She has a PhD in English literature and seems congenitally incapable of writing a dull sentence.

When I was a Child I read books is a series of essay on the place of literature and the role of faith in our lives. She writes as one unashamedly shaped by what she reads and how she thinks (and she is a rigorous thinker). She speaks of her current political context in the States (after Walt Whitman) as 'characterised by wolfishness and filled with blather.' She is one, I suspect, who feels that we need to read more and express opinions less.

And she worries for the people of faith. The passive pious, she suggests, just shrug and declare the whole enterprise bankrupt; while the active pious 'see some hope in a hastily arranged liquidation of cultural assets'. What a wonderful phrase that is and how it fingers the shallow activism of so much that passes for faith and theology. She laments the fact that people of faith have in recent years retreated from 'the cultivation and celebration of learning and of beauty, by dumbing down, as if people were less than God made them and in need of nothing so much as condescension.' See what I mean about her language!

I was having a Facebook exchange earlier this morning about Bishop Graham Cray. A friend is doing sessions at Spring Harvest with him this week. I was reflecting that back in the 70s Graham Cray - then a curate, I think, in York - opened up the world of popular music as a field of serious study for Christians. It was, literally, music to my ears; it gave permission for a life-long exploration of and grappling with the deep stuff of popular culture. It also told me - at an impressionable age - that ideas matter, that how we think about the world shapes the way we live in it.

Robinson stands in the same cultural stream as Cray, Christians who recognise that all truth belongs to God and reveals something about him wherever that truth is to be found.

Even on the basis of the fifteen pages I've read so far, I recommend you go and get this book and meditate over it of the rewards it yields will be rich indeed.

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