I shall now snootily subvert “the year in culture” blog post genre by linking to one from 2004. A wonderful essay by Una Cadegan in the Confessing History volume (which I reviewed over here), brought my attention to Judith Shulevitz’s 2004 wrap up in Slate, where she wrote the following about Marilynne Robinson.
For inspiration Robinson has reached so far into the prehistory of American writing that she bypasses the Enlightenment conviction that art is distinct from religion. She takes us back to the time of the Puritans, to the era of great and garrulous and promiscuously confessional diaries and testimonials and yes, sermons, all written by men and women who brought a sense of high drama to their struggle to be good that we can hardly imagine anymore. In Gilead‘s universe, as in theirs, the mundane is sacred and the sacred ubiquitous. God is entirely good but frighteningly unknowable. The past of one’s forefathers—whether biblical or abolitionist—has at least as much reality as the fleeting present. And in that conflation of past and present Robinson seems almost to be issuing a prophecy about American literature, to be pointing us toward a spiritual renewal after decades of ever giddier modernism, postmodernism, and moral indifference. The direction she heads us in strikes me as hopeful and fresh, as fresh as the Bible itself, and also slightly terrifying.
A rising tide of books and centers makes it almost a commonplace to suggest that evangelicals are experiencing ressourcement, a rediscovery of the early church that – in Jason Byassee’s words – “is akin to that enjoyed by Catholics in the last century.” Nothing could be better for modern evangelicals. But Robinson is a reminder that such resourcing should include not only the Christian Platonism of the Patristic era, but that of the Puritans as well.
Those Puritans didn’t love the liturgical year, but they were wrong about that. Merry Seventh Day of Christmas First Things readers, which is puzzlingly referred to elsewhere as “New Year.”