Inventing the Kingdom, Part 1

image of Emmanuel CarrereThis post appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 92.

When The Kingdom landed on my desk with a thud, I could tell that it would pose a challenge—that it would be a book I had to contend with. In addition to being a substantial tome, it comes with the cultural imprimatur conveyed by its publisher, the venerable Farrar, Straus and Giroux, whose backlist includes the likes of Czeslaw Milosz, Seamus Heaney, and Flannery O’Connor.

From the publicity materials I learned that its author, Emmanuel Carrère, is one of France’s leading writers and intellectuals, the author not only of novels and memoirs but also of film and television screenplays, some of which he has also directed. One of these was a series about people who mysteriously come back from the dead, not as zombies, but as people resuming their normal lives: Les Revenants, remade in North America as The Returned. Carrère’s books include My Life as a Russian Novel and The Adversary, the chilling story of a Frenchman who posed as a doctor for twenty years, then killed his own family in a doomed attempt to prevent the truth from coming out.

The Kingdom begins with a memoir of Carrère’s fleeting conversion to Christianity more than twenty years ago, the moment when, as he put it at the time, he felt “touched by grace.” You can tell by the way he writes about it now that Carrère is embarrassed by the sentimentality of this phrase. But at the time his devotion was sincere, manifesting itself in daily Mass attendance and a series of notebooks in which he recorded a running commentary on the Gospel of John.

And yet, only a couple of years later, he would relinquish his faith. “I forsake you, Lord,” he wrote in the final notebook. “Please do not forsake me.” [Read more…]

The Poetry of Self-Absorbed Young Love

Until I was thirty-two, I was afraid to think about God. I panicked at what I called “ultimate questions.” In my journal when I was twenty-nine, I wrote: “Life-and-death is the only real drama. But I’m afraid to get close to it.”

Yet I’d keep begging my husband George, teasingly, to “tell me the meaning of life.” It was one of the playful routines of the first six years or so of our marriage. We’d giggle at his lack of an answer—giggle because we were sure that any answer would be a religious cliché we’d scoff at.

We’d met while getting our doctorates in literature, and the thing in life we were most confident of—and quite arrogantly charmed by—was our own brilliance. If life did have a meaning, we were certain that we could find it (or produce it) in our own minds. [Read more…]

Of Monks, Conversion, and Radio Astronomy, Part 2

Guest Post
By Richard Cole

—Continued from yesterday.

On my second day at the abbey, I bounced around, trying to listen, to feel, to be in the moment like Carmen advised. It was a tough slog.

“Waste time. Waste time,” I told myself, checking my watch.

At lunch with the brothers, I casually mentioned that I was in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) now. I waited for congratulations but everyone just nodded. One of the brothers asked, “Have you seen the library? You might find that useful.”

After lunch, I found the library. Everything was orderly and well-arranged. I felt calm, the way I do in a workshop, surrounded by tools and lumber. I wandered over to an old Royale typewriter sitting on a small table. On top was a note written in a spidery, elegant hand: [Read more…]

Of Monks, Conversion, and Radio Astronomy, Part 1

By Richard Cole
Guest Post

In the middle of life, I fell in love. For my forty-ninth birthday, my wife Lauren gave me a three-day visit by myself at a monastery in South Texas. I went there simply to read for a while and relax. I wasn’t a believer in much of anything, I wasn’t religious, and while I was there, I didn’t see any visions or hear voices.

But when I came back, I was on a path. Something had happened. An invisible hand was pressing me in the small of my back, propelling me forward.

At the monastery, I wondered whether the monks would try to convert their guest. I’d been around evangelists before. I kept waiting for someone to approach me with a carnivorous twinkle in his eye and ask, “Are you saved, my son?” [Read more…]