Saturday, March 30, 2013

Five top 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:
The Habit of Being
by Flannery O'Connor (1979)

Flannery O'Connor first became famous for teaching a chicken to walk backward. She was 6. There is something in the act, some essential absurdity and wry glee, as well as some essential loneliness that makes a child seek companionship in a hen, that goes to the heart of what makes this posthumous collection of O'Connor's letters so enjoyable and moving. O'Connor was a Catholic in a Protestant part of the country (Georgia), a religious person in a secular intellectual milieu, and her letters are particularly helpful for anyone who finds herself torn between the apparently opposite poles of orthodoxy and atheism. "Apparently" is the operative word here. "I don't know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience ... of unbelief." Her letters are certainly grounded in this experience. The wonder is how often they—and she—flower out of it into expressions of credible faith.
Read about the other books on Wiman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue