Telling the Truth

Enter Frederick Buechner’s Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, which explores the Christian gospel through the lenses of three literary genres: tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. In essence, Buechner suggests that serious matters of the gospel are first matters of a human life well lived before they are a logical problem to be solved and systematized.

Jon Fosse’s “Septology”: Coincidencia Oppositorum

Jon Fosse’s novel Septology (published in Norwegian in 2019) is a monologue beginning and ending in the mind of Asle, an elderly widowed Norwegian painter living in the countryside on the proceeds from the sale of his paintings. He communes throughout the next 667 pages with a self who becomes both him and not him.

Poetry Chose Me: Q&A with Jeanne Murray Walker

I miss the very close community that I believe we all felt when my family and other families in our conservative Baptist church saw one another as special and bonded. We counted on one another. Whenever the pastor turned the lights on, we were there: Sunday School, church, prayer meeting, young peoples’ meetings, vacation Bible school, mother-daughter banquets, midnight watches, potlucks, revivals, and car washes on Sunday afternoons.

All Things New

I’m going to have to bow out for a little while. In the middle of life’s way I have suddenly returned to school to study environmental science and law. Whether this is wandering in a dark woods—and if it is, whether I will emerge on the right side of the woods—time will tell. I don’t think of this wandering as a complete career shift, as I still have literary work to publish.

Studies in the Future Religion

I am always troubled by two things which are really one thing. One thing, or one part of this big thing, is religion: Why does it seem so broken now, so impossible? And the other part is the ecological crisis: How can my work as a writer, teacher, or father answer to these uncanny times?

See So That Others May See

Carolyn Forché is now a celebrated American poet. But she was far from that on the day in the late 1970s when a car pulled up outside the remote California beach house that she was renting. The driver idled the engine, then finally turned it off. At that, Forché, alone in the house and busily typing, noticed the sudden silence and became apprehensive. In her gripping memoir What You Have Heard is True, she narrates what happened next.

Tolle! Lege!

In her new books The Scandal of Holiness and Reading for the Love of God, Jessica Hooten Wilson writes as a lifelong Christian to other Christians. She would like more people who profess the faith to immerse themselves in reading works of imaginative literature. This duology is part of new widespread interest in Great Books curricula.

A Fever for Life: Q&A With Marco Bardazzi

Piccinini was an Italian surgeon at Sant’Orsola hospital in Bologna, a husband, a father of four, and a passionate leader and friend of thousands of high school and university students in Italy between the 1970s and the end of the twentieth century. He died at the age of 48 in 1999 in a car accident on the highway between Milan and Bologna. At his funeral in Bologna, celebrated in the basilica of San Petronio by the then archbishop Giacomo Biffi, there were seven thousand people.

Spiritual Bouquets

If, as is the case, the word “anthology” derives from a combination of Greek words meaning, “gathering of flowers,” then most poetry anthologies might best be described as mixed bouquets. Readers search them for a few spectacular roses and lilies amid the humbler baby’s breath and fern fronds that fill out the collection. Yet I suspect its far easier for twenty people to agree on the beauty of a particular flower than the merits of a recently written poem.

On “Brendan” by Frederick Buechner

Legend, the Google definition states, is a “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.” Brendan, the 1987 historical novel by theologian Frederick Buechner, uses this term to its advantage. St. Brendan of Clonfert (c. AD 484 – c. AD 577), or Brendan the Navigator in Catholic tradition, is the novel’s subject

Depression and the Castle

I always feel warmly toward Mark Fisher. I keep coming back to things he wrote in Ghosts of My Life: Writings On Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures. Sadly, Fisher did not always feel so warmly toward himself. Or perhaps it wasn’t himself so much as what was going on inside. He discusses depression frequently in his writings.

The Problem of (Fictional) Pain

A couple of months ago I re-read some of the work of an anonymous fourteenth-century figure known as the Pearl Poet or the Gawain Poet. There is little poetry in the English language that affects me so profoundly as that of the Pearl Poet. His two chief works after which he is called, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, form the bedrock of my understanding not just of fantasy literature, but of fiction generally.

Circling Through a Sonnet

I like to memorize poems—to have them in my head to recite while I’m exercising on my indoor bike or taking a brisk walk in my neighborhood. Not surprisingly, I find that short poems with rhyming are the easiest to memorize. So sonnets are ideal. Take Mark Jarman’s epilogue to his collection Unholy Sonnets (2000).

The Poetry of the Annunciation

I don’t think I memorized those opening lines of Edwin Muir’s “The Annunciation” chiefly because of their prosody. What would have caught my attention is the emphasis on the earth and embodiment. I am if anything more committed now to these themes than I was as a young graduate student who was increasingly mortified by what seemed the disembodied and even (as I would now say) the anti-incarnational mental acrobatics of contemporary intellectual culture.

Things Too Wonderful

How do we render onto paper not what we hear but what we cannot hear? What is the story for what we do not know? I believe we look for it in doubt, fear, and uncertainty.
I believe we experience that mystery in the questions, and not the answers, the silence and not the noise.

A Man Who Did What He Could

Paul Farmer died in his sleep Monday, February 21, and we will not see his like again soon. Dr. Farmer, a physician, medical anthropologist, author, and tireless champion of the world’s poor had been working in Butaro, Rwanda, at a hospital he helped build. For someone who was never quite comfortable anywhere but among fellow human beings in urgent need, it was a fitting place to end an astonishingly fruitful life.

Ex Oriente Lux

I picked a hell of a time to try to write about a Russian author. As I type this, the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has been going on for a few days. I was going to write about a man named Vladimir Soloukhin, in particular about his fascinating book Searching for Icons in Russia. But I don’t have the heart to write what I had been planning to write.

On Picking Up C. S. Lewis Again

Lewis the Apologist has never interested me.… Lewis the Storyteller is another matter. His Space Trilogy is excellent and haunting. I would sooner re-read Perelandra than its model, Paradise Lost. The final book of the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, only seems more prescient as we slouch further toward a posthuman future. It is also one of the most unique and ambitious modern contributions to the Arthurian tradition.

All That Lives Remains

What really engages Rowan Williams in the three short plays included in Shakeshafte & Other Plays is the costly dynamic of artistic expression— a cost paid dearly by the artists represented in those three plays: by Shakespeare (in the first of the plays, Shakeshafte), by David Jones (in the second, The Flat Roof of the World), and by Jesus (in the third, Lazarus).

The Test of Time

A common feature of these two highly recommended books is their representation of religious faith in a medium – the novel – that has of late had little good to say about religion. Perhaps they point toward something analogous to the Bechdel Test, in which characters who happen to be religious are presented unironically as full, if flawed, persons who act upon and talk about their convictions without collapsing into the stereotyped roles of hypocrite, fanatic, or repressive killjoy.