Saturday, March 30, 2013

Five notable works of accidental theology

Christian Wiman's books include Every Riven Thing, winner of the Ambassador Book Award in poetry, and Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam. His new book is My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.

In an interview with Christianity Today, he said: "I read a lot of theology, even though I am almost always frustrated by it. Thomas Merton once said that trying "to solve the problem of God" is like trying to see your own eyes. No doubt that's part of it. There is something absurd about formulating faith, systematizing God. I am usually more moved—and more moved toward God—by what one might call accidental theology, the best of which is often art, sometimes even determinedly secular art."

One of Wiman's five top works of accidental theology, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
by Fanny Howe (2000)

In a better world, Fanny Howe's masterpiece, "Indivisible," would be as well known as the works of Marilynne Robinson or Cormac McCarthy (to name two other novelists who could easily be on this list). The book is almost impossible to classify. It is a complex and propulsive story first: The narrator, a spiritual autodidact in extreme turmoil, locks her husband in a closet on the first page, and we don't learn why until the last chapter. It is literary criticism, studded with brain-shaking observations like this one, of Henry Adams: "He was an atheist but in the spirit of one who wants to protect God from himself." ("Himself" here is Adams.) Best of all, though, is the book's fusion of prayer and poetry, dangerous madness and redemptive mysticism: "I don't like the word 'worship' ... because it is idolatrous to separate yourself from God like that."
Read about another book on Wiman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue