One of the pleasures of subscribing to a finely bound journal is that instead of throwing away an issue as the next one arrives, you can stack them all together on a shelf and treat them like books, going back to them whenever you want or need. Quite awhile ago, Imagejournal (2008; volume 57) published an interview with Ron Hansen that I go back to periodically, as I just did this morning.
Hansen is a novelist and English professor at Santa Clara University. At the time of the interview he had a new novel out, Exiles (Farrar Straus & Giroux), which is about the shipwreck in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” Regarding the fact that Hopkins was unpublished in his lifetime and people thought he was an "eccentric nut," Hansen wondered “What does that say about our sense of trust in God? What does that say to you, in this day, as a writer, about your sense of reputation and doing God’s will?” With insight into Hopkin's own sense of reputation, Hansen told that Hopkins once wrote “Christ is the only literary critic.”
I admire that abandon; even more I admire the faith that a divine aesthetic is the highest and that it can be sought. The challenge of course is in refraining from equating Christ’s aesthetics with the prevailing literary (or nonliterary) mileau of one’s particular culture or subculture. It’s not surprising that Hopkins was one of those writers that practiced a deep and necessary connection between writing and prayer.
Hansen talked about how many writers of faith think of themselves as exiled, as unable to say the unsayable except only through cunning, how it takes courage to claim oneself as a religious person. Hansen said he thinks of writing as a sacrament, a visible sign of an invisible grace:
“Writing witnesses to something that’s happened to you, or to some power that’s moving through you. In writing, you’re trying to communicate what’s been going on in you spiritually and make it somehow tangbile to others. You’re trying to give it life. And that’s what the sacraments are intended to do. They're symbols of something that God is actually doing to us”
[Photo: taken of a beautiful sky, although not today's sky, which is also quite beautiful but in a different way.]