All posts tagged: literature

The Wayward Daughters

“All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path,” confesses Kristin Lavransdatter, a wealthy Norwegian noblewoman and titular character of Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s three-part novel.[1] Set in the fourteenth century, the saga follows the life of Kristin, one of the most complex female characters of 20th century literature, from womb to tomb. She wrestles with the weight of sin, her refusal to reconcile her will with God’s, and the suffering that accompanies her wayward decisions. In Brideshead Revisited, British novelist Evelyn Waugh brings another multi-layered female character to life: Lady Julia Flyte, a wealthy heiress living decadently in 20th century England. Each woman is raised in a devout Catholic home and yet is caught between her own passions and her love for God. Separated not only by geography and several centuries, Kristin and Julia’s lives are very different. Kristin is a mother of many and she lives to become a grandmother. Julia is childless. But Kristin Lavransdatter and Brideshead Revisited share the same themes …

Church Life Journal’s Best of 2018

Dear Readers, Thank you for blessing Church Life Journal with your support this past year. We reached more readers with our theological explorations than we could have ever imagined. We couldn’t have done it without all your generous shares, retweets, and personal recommendations. Please keep them coming. My special thanks also goes out to Tim O’Malley for his sage meta-advice on running the journal’s many operations, and Jay Martin for introducing me to an endless stream of contributors. Ultimately, my thanks goes out to all our contributors who continually surprise me with the quality, intelligence, and beauty of their writing. I submit to you our most-read essays of 2018 below as a token of my appreciation and as a promise of what you can expect in 2019 (besides a website redesign). Please click on the essay titles to access what look like the most intriguing reads. A Happy New Year to you and Merry conclusion to your Christmas season. May your Christmas trees make it to February 2nd! In Christ, Artur Rosman, CLJ Managing Editor The …

A Commonplace Christmas

The Nativity by G.K. Chesterton For unto us a child is born. —Isaiah The thatch of the roof was as golden, Though dusty the straw was and old, The wind was a peal as of trumpets, Though barren and blowing and cold: The mother’s hair was a glory, Though loosened and torn, For under the eaves in the gloaming— A child was born. O, if a man sought a sign in the inmost That God shaketh broadest his best, That things fairest are oldest and simplest, In the first days created and blest: Far flush all the tufts of the clover, Thick mellows the corn, A cloud shapes, a daisy is opened — A child is born. With raw mists of the earth-rise about them, Risen red from the ribs of the earth, Wild and huddled, the man and the woman, Bent dumb o’er the earliest birth; Ere the first roof was hammered above them. The first skin was worn, Before code, before creed, before conscience— A child was born. What know we of aeons …

Fear the Innocence of Children

You know, sometimes I imagine what any decent agnostic of average intelligence might say, if by some impossible chance one of those intolerable praters were to let him stand awhile in the pulpit, in his stead, on the day consecrated to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, for instance: “Ladies and gentlemen,” he would begin, “I don’t share all your beliefs, but I probably know more about the history of the church than you do, because I happen to have read it, and not many parishioners can say that. (If I’m wrong, let those who have signify in the usual manner.) “Well now, I know you’re not inclined to worry much about what people of my sort think. And the most pious among you are even very anxious to avoid all discussion with infidels, in case they were to ‘lose their faith,’ as they put it. All I can say is their ‘faith’ must be hanging by a thread. It makes you wonder what the faith of the lukewarm can be! We often call such poor creatures …

Advent Faith Is Not a Big Electric Blanket

In his 1958 essay “The Meaning of Advent” collected in Dogma and Preaching, the then-Father Joseph Ratzinger writes of St. John the Baptist as “the great figure that dominates Advent,” who—along with the Blessed Mother—are “the two great types of Advent existence.”[1] Since Advent is a penitential season wherein all Christians are called to undergo a sober re-examination of one’s conformity (or lack thereof) to Christ and the state of one’s preparation for his second coming in his triumphant Parousia, we would all do well to place ourselves before the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets and heralds of the coming of the Messiah. “Challenging and active,” writes Ratzinger, “he stands before us, a type of masculine mission in life. He is the stern herald who summons the people to metanoia: to a change of heart or conversion.”[2] Since the Catholic faith is incarnational and sacramental, however, one need not limit oneself to the biblical witness itself, although one should always start there. There are other places that one may turn as well …

Third Sunday in Advent: A Call to Surrender

Third Sunday in Advent by John Keble What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? . . . But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. —St. Matthew xi. 7, 9. WHAT went ye out to see O’er the rude sandy lea, Where stately Jordan flows by many a palm, Or where Gennesaret’s wave Delights the flowers to lave, That o’er her western slope breathe airs of balm. All through the summer night, Those blossoms red and bright Spread their soft breasts, unheeding, to the breeze, Like hermits watching still Around the sacred hill, Where erst our Saviour watched upon His knees. A Paschal moon above Seems like a saint to rove, Left shining in the world with Christ alone; Below, the lake’s still face Sleeps sweetly in th’ embrace Of mountains terrac’d high with mossy stone. Here may we sit, and dream Over the heavenly theme, Till to our soul the former days return; Till …

Dostoevsky on the Demonic Decimation of a Shareable World

One way of thinking of the modern demonic is that it is marked by an otherness viewed not as a threatening outside, but a shocking inside contributing to the doubling of a self that cannot find ballast and thereby becomes capable of intentional forms of evil far beyond the circumscription of the human flesh and psyche. Given this definition, my proposal is that the literary figure who is most penetrating and expansive on the topic is Fyodor Dostoevsky. There are other writers with plausible claims to this mantle, perhaps one of the French trio of André Gide, Georges Bataille, and Jean Genet, maybe even William Golding who unerringly exposes our collective illusions regarding sympathy and fraternity throughout his oeuvre and not simply in Lord of the Flies. Needless to say, under scrutiny the bona fides of Golding as the connoisseur of the modern demonic do not hold up. As a writer Golding is more focused on the return of the repressed than on the endlessly spiraling reflection that is the ground of acts of evil …

Charles Péguy’s Difficult Hope

Charles Péguy died with a bullet through the head on September 5, 1914. The First World War was but a few months old. Péguy is impossible to really characterize. He has a way of defying summarization, and so too do his poems. There is much too much between the lines, in the meandering prose, in the life. He was French, born of peasants in Orléans in 1873, and he considered himself a child of the Republic that had lurched into existence somehow in the 19th century after a couple turns at empire and emperor. He was convinced that his generation was the last of the real republicans, whom he traced backward with an impracticable, zigzagging line from 1848 to 1830 to the first breath of the first revolution.[1] Péguy can be understood, insists on being understood, by knowing something of the Dreyfus Affair. He bound himself to the event tightly and inexorably, and refused to relinquish it.[2] One Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the military, was convicted of treason and thrown in jail for life …

Dostoevsky’s Literary Burden of Representing Saints

Perhaps no one in the history of modern literature was as conscious as Dostoevsky regarding the literary burden taken on when it came to presenting or representing an unassailably good person. Such a depiction was weighed down with representational disadvantages: it took talent but was not impossible to depict a great sinner who undergoes conversion or is capable of such; it took a unique talent, someone of Dostoevsky’s psychological acuity, to lay bare the psyche of the person alienated from others, self, and God and free-falling into incoherence. But how to depict a truly good man, indeed, a man who is nothing short of a saint, someone who has died to self and made himself available to others, was a task for which Dostoevsky was unsure that his or indeed anyone’s literary gifts were a match. Hagiography is a genre of long-standing, but no modern writer confuses it with literature, which requires characters that are not only believable in the modern world, but show the capacity to negotiate and transcend it. But just such a …

Frankenstein’s Scientific Chaoskampf

Jason Josephson-Storm convincingly argues in his recent book The Myth of Disenchantment, that contrary to the popular narrative of us living in secular age in which the common imagination has no room for anything spiritual, magical, or mythological we still very much live in an enchanted age.[1] We never became disenchanted because the so-called disenchanters, the founders of the modern sciences, were themselves caught up in the esotericism and occultism common in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In short, magicians never went away they just put on lab coats. Of course the forgoing summary is crude and there is much more nuance to Josephson-Storm’s argument. However, the aim of the following is not to provide an analysis of his thesis. Instead, I would like to take this idea of Josephson-Storm’s that modernity, specifically modern science, is still rooted in myth and get at the founding myth of modern science’s progeny and master: modern technology. In so doing, I hope to call into question for both the lay person and the pastor the technophilia—the …