A Metaphorical God, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

Thomas-Aquinas-Black-largeIn some ways, “mystery” is perhaps the boldest term we chose as a subtitle for Image, the one most out of touch with our times. It is true that secular artists and writers regularly speak of navigating uncertainties and ambiguities. But in their embrace of post-Enlightenment thought, they tacitly accept various determinisms that attempt to explain reality with reference to biology, psychology, sociology, or any of the modernist replacements for ultimate reality. Most secular writers and artists simply live with the contradiction. Though there occasionally arise writers like David Foster Wallace who are more open and anguished about these conflicts, evasion and complacency remain the norm.

At the same time, it is no exaggeration to say that much of the contemporary hostility toward mystery comes from those who enthusiastically embrace religion. The relentless literalism and pragmatism of the fundamentalist stem from a fear of mystery, of the ambiguity of Holy Saturday. In the decades since Image was founded, many believers have awakened to the limitations of politics and polemics and embraced the need to make culture, not war. But there is still a long way to go.

In the preface to Intruding Upon the Timeless, my first collection of Image essays, I focused largely on one aspect of the journal’s mission: the ambition to prove that the encounter between art and faith was far from over, that it continued in our own time and all over the globe. That desire to find a place at the table in the larger cultural conversation was, indeed, central to the founding of the journal. The goal was not to engage secularism and fundamentalism in a new culture war, but to demonstrate that an ancient and still vital alternative tradition remains worthy of engagement. [Read more…]

A Metaphorical God, Part 1

St-thomas-aquinasThe following is adapted from the preface to The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith, and Mystery.

My God, my God, thou art a direct God, may I not say a literal God, a God that wouldst be understood literally and according to the plain sense of all that thou sayest? but thou art also…a figurative, a metaphorical God too; a God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such curtains of allegories, such third heavens of hyperboles, so harmonious elocutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding persuasions, so persuading commandments, such sinews even in thy milk, and such things in thy words, as all profane authors seem of the seed of the serpent that creeps, thou art the Dove that flies.—John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

The essays gathered in The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith, and Mystery were originally published as editorial statements, each beginning an issue of Image. They seek to explore the trinity of terms we’ve set forth in the journal’s subtitle, “art, faith, mystery.” Whether these words strike you as intriguing or pretentious may depend on your personal tastes, but anyone proposing them for consideration ought to have an explanation or two handy for the curious. [Read more…]

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

Egyptian StatuesSince I’ve been blogging here at Good Letters I have been contacted by several friends who knew me back when I was a Baptist. My friend Heidi asked, “Are you a universalist now?” Cliff wondered if I was, “denying or seriously doubting Jesus’ claim to be God.” Another asked if I was “still a believer,” and yet another frankly labeled me agnostic.

These friends are seeing my musings after many years away—thanks to social media. Their own journeys seem to be keeping closer to their original faith, and mine not so much. There’s no doubt that it’s been a long road from my strict fundamentalist childhood to where I am now. [Read more…]

Save the Economy: Read the Classics

booksI was reading Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si when I began an article called “What is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” Published in the August 13, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books, the article is by Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Director of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society, and author of Mass Flourishing.

What surprised me was that sometimes I couldn’t tell which work I was reading.

“Many people have long felt the desire to do something with their lives besides consuming goods and having leisure. They desire to participate in a community in which they can interact and develop.”

“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” [Read more…]

The Bearable Weightiness of Being

By Amy Peterson
61pASF-GwkL._SL500_I was restless this spring, edging manic. I think my kids noticed. One Thursday I checked them out of school for an impromptu road trip.

“Isn’t this fun?” I asked. If this were a novel I’d say my eyes were glittering, but this is not fiction: I have no idea how wild-eyed I was.

“I just think it’s a little weird to leave school for no reason,” my six-year-old said.

It wasn’t for no reason. The responsibilities of adult life were weighing heavily on me, and I felt stuck with mortgage payments and email responses and writing deadlines and the feeling that every person in our small town was watching me. At the same time, my body was remembering another spring, the spring when I felt most free.

Karis and I took a gently rocking train from Budapest to Prague, clutching paper cups of coffee, steam fogging the green view outside the window. It was May 2002, and I was twenty-years-old, wearing my hair in greasy braids, mostly unaware of my privilege, and taking myself and my freedom very seriously. [Read more…]


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