The Saint John’s Bible: Back to the Future

9-st-john-depicted-as-a-scribe-from-bodleian-library-ms-auct-d-1-17The story of how the text of the Bible was set down and transmitted is one we all know by heart.

Once upon a time, ancient scribes set the sacred words down on papyrus, followed a few centuries later by monks in dimly lit scriptoria putting ink and gold leaf on richly illuminated pages of vellum. Then came the revolution of Gutenberg’s printed books and finally the digital age dawned, giving us the Bible in myriad forms, from searchable online versions to verses that we have texted daily to our smartphones.

This narrative has also typically been imbued with a clear moral: the Word, once captive to economic, technological, and cultural limits that enabled a small elite to hoard and control it, eventually succumbed to democratizing forces that enabled scripture to become the prized possession of every individual believer.

Needless to say, it’s hard to argue with a tale of liberation from oppression. Who’s going to pick the empire over the rebels? [Read more...]

In a Domain of Sheep, He was a Lion:
Tributes to D.G. Myers from Friends & Colleagues

D.G. Myers

Photo by Gil Roth

The writer, critic, and literary scholar D.G. Myers died September 26 at the age of sixty-two, almost seven years to the day after he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. David wrote about his illness as he wrote about books and his faith–incisively, forthrightly, with vast knowledge, and without self-pity. In August, David wrote in an email: “When someone replies to me, ‘We’re all dying,’ as if to relieve my mind, I want to punch him.”

As many of you know, David joined Good Letters, the blog from Image journal, a few months back and wrote several posts about his experience with cancer, some of which were shared widely.

Click here to find a link to all seven posts David wrote for Good Letters.

Click here for David’s “A Commonplace Blog.”

We’ve invited a group of David’s friends, old and new, to participate in a tribute to his life and work. Two themes unify the following tributes and remembrances: while few of the contributors met David in the flesh, all felt welcomed into his world; and the bond they forged transcended politics, religion, and literary tastes. To know David was to be challenged and rewarded. [Read more...]

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Creative Writers According to St. Augustine, Part 2

st-augustine-2-1-2Guest post by Gregory Wolfe

The post, continued from yesterday, is adapted from a commencement address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in Creative Writing graduation ceremony in Santa Fe, NM on August 9, 2014.

5: Make your writing a prayer.

This point may sound overly pious but I don’t mean it in a pietistic way.

I’m not suggesting that you imitate Augustine, who wrote the entirety of the Confessions as a single, continuous prayer. But what he did in that book offers us some clues about how to be better writers.

Every prayer, even the short ones we blurt out in times of need, is language that is shaped to some extent: consecrated speech. In prayer we search for words to express our need, seek help, and give thanks. The very act of prayer is thus a search, a journey.

Augustine peppers his Confessions with questions, and I can’t think of a more spiritual form of devotion than questions that are posed with passion and genuine openness to the unknown, the unexpected sources of grace.

What if everything you wrote was a prayer to God and a prayer for communion with your reader?

[Read more...]

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Creative Writers According to St. Augustine, Part 1

podium-640x426Guest post by Gregory Wolfe

The following is adapted from a commencement address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in Creative Writing graduation ceremony in Santa Fe, NM on August 9, 2014.

I’ve been thinking that in the rapidly changing, cutthroat literary marketplace—where it’s easier to get published but harder to make any money or sustain a career—that my usual commencement “blah blah blah,” based as it is on old-fashioned rhetorical devices like carefully elaborated arguments drenched in a heavy sauce of gravitas, just won’t cut it anymore.

No, it’s time to loosen the tie, roll up the sleeves, and get practical. So, while I’m going to follow my usual pattern and speak on topics suggested by the texts we’ve been reading together, I’m junking the literary essay for the much more profitable format of bullet-pointed self-help advice. You graduates deserve nothing less.

[Read more...]

The Second Coming of Flannery O’Connor

The ongoing conversation about contemporary literature and faith that I have been having with Dana Gioia and Paul Elie across half a dozen print and online venues, though it has touched on a dozen different issues, ultimately comes down to one: “absence” versus “presence.”

The question Elie has raised, you may recall, is whether we currently have novelists who “treat the main themes and the big claims made for religious belief.”

That claim has been subject to a series of challenges. Why does Elie focus on fiction to the exclusion of other literary genres, such as poetry and creative nonfiction? Why does Elie eliminate from consideration novels set in the past, like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead? Why won’t he concede that a writer like Alice McDermott, who writes about the past, nonetheless presents us with contemporary narrators whose struggles to believe come in the form of trying to understand the faith of the preceding generations? Why won’t he examine in detail the lists of books that fulfill his rather restricted criteria—lists that include a number of books he says he hasn’t read?

It is very tempting at this point to rush down the rabbit hole in pursuit of various minor issues. It is also tempting to point out that we are living in a time when any cultured person’s “Top Ten” lists of greatest living artists would contain world-class artists of faith or those who grapple with faith: Marilynne Robinson and Cormac McCarthy in fiction, Sir Geoffrey Hill and Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer in poetry, Richard Rodriguez and Annie Dillard in nonfiction, Arvo Paert in classical music, Bruce Springsteen and U2 and others in popular music, and so forth.

But I think the deeper question has to do with why so many people feel that we live in a time of absence.

[Read more...]