Book Club Channel
More Mystery, More Orthodoxy: What We'll Be Reading in 25 Years
As for genres, which after all are more significant supposedly than the package or delivery system (though I increasingly doubt that particular piece of common wisdom as well), I don't see our great poets yet. We don't seem just now to have a Hopkins or an Eliot running about and singing to us. But we will. My holy, or at least my reverent, bet is that somewhere among us there is, or soon will be, a poet or two who will write us the mystery and who will do so in the rhythmic or even musical half-prose of a post-literate sensibility.
Whatever else is going to happen in spiritual writing, the coming classics that both we and the ages will celebrate are going to speak obliquely and intuitively about the mystery, about the glorious enigma of faith, about the non-definable that we all know is there, the world that has a geography but comes to us sans Tourist Bureau promo shots. The engagement of doctrine and the intellectualization of belief will not cease to furnish subject-matter for the books to be written and sifted in the years between us and the mid-century, but the approach to that material will be much more subtle, beautifully rendered, and humbly offered than, generally speaking, has been true over the last century or two.
For many of the same reasons, we will see more of Orthodoxy not only in those forgettable books that we read as a means of diurnal and ordinary sustenance, but also in the classics that will rise up to become the treasures we hand on to the cadres of Christians yet to come. That "more of Orthodoxy" will certainly include the outright incorporation of Orthodoxy's story and theology in much of what is written over the next few decades. Those things are part and parcel of our western or latinized Christian yearning back toward a global Christianity and a Church Universal. But Orthodoxy will also become the cachet—the sweet perfume—just lightly scenting much of our spiritual writing, especially in the essay format. Already we see an increase in the number of Orthodox writers selling successfully in the American market, just as we see among our non-Orthodox writers an increasing employment in their work of things like the use of icons in spiritual growth, the practice of the Jesus Prayer, the aesthetic power of eastern liturgical accoutrements etc.
Rather aligned to the return of an affinity for the Orthodox heritage of the Faith will be an increase in books about monasticism and vowed living, whether it be fully communal or not; and out of that expanding stream, I suspect some truly classic and enduring titles will surface and swim forth. The Orthodox writer's trick of employing the third-person perspective instead of the first-person one that has traditionally been so dear to western writers will take firmer root among us, making the spiritual memoir or autobiography less appealing and/or less desirable as a vehicle for producing classic Christian material.
Finally, fiction, that great mainstay of all people's literature in all content areas, will thrive among us—not, however, the ordinary fiction that tells a romantic or even insightful story, allowing us pleasantly to pass a sequestered and non-electronic hour or two. The seeds of the fiction that is coming can, rather, be seen in the work of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga or in the non-Christian spiritual work of Philip Pullman's His Dark Material trilogy where again the mystery—the ineffable, the sacred known that is unknowable—seduces the whole sum that is each of us and then, having seduced, begins to infiltrate and sculpt what we are and how we live.
In sum, like the old sailor man, I may be wrong about the weather, though like him I doubt it. But either way, there is one certain thing, and that is that there will indeed be weather for as long as we human beings dream of sailing.
Visit the Patheos Book Club on 25 Books Every Christian Should Read for more conversation on essential spiritual reading for our time.
Phyllis Tickle is the author of The Great Emergence and the forthcoming Emergence Christianity from Baker Books (Fall 2012). She is the Founding Editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly.