Thursday, March 6, 2008

Discovering Dillard

One of my favorite genres of literature is the memoir. My shelves are filled with the likes of Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen, Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Carolyn Knapp, Lauren Winner, and Donald Miller. Somehow the unique experiences of individuals speak to the universal souls of others, especially when written with the depth, honesty, and humor of these authors. But I've never really read Annie Dillard; I've seen her quoted, and know of her work from a distance, but I've never actually sat down, opened one of her books, and let her words and world in - until now. And it's been a treat. If you're unfamiliar to her work as I am, Dillard writes with delicate yet forceful prose, almost like poetry; with precision, painfully describing the absurd, and noticing the spiritual in the natural. In a beautiful piece comparing her attendance at Catholic mass to an expedition to the Arctic Pole, she writes this:

"God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God that demands these things.

"Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these; not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things - unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.

"You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find the darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require it nor demand it." ("An Expedition to a Pole" from Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 43.)

Mindful of our series on discipleship at Epic, these words cut deeply, yet gracefully. It is a call to our volition, to our wills. It is an unapologetic and unabashed call to choose.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Most Memoirs make for the best reading. There is something about someone's real life experiences and interpretations that can speak to you more clearly than a fiction novel can. I might try that book one of these days.

mainlandgirl said...

Great list of soulful contemplatives; some of my favorites too. Am currently re-reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh "Gift from the Sea" while on the islands.