If you love the inspirational work of C.S. Lewis or Frederick Buechner-and so many of us do-then you know that their lively Christian writings leap from their love of literature. One of the defining moments in Lewis' life, according to biographers, is the moment when a friend insisted to the religiously skeptical Lewis: "The myths are true." This catalytic comment, biographers say, was a key step in Christian conversion. These great writers-and many others, of course-first felt a stirring for the larger spiritual universe deep in the pages of books. Lewis, of course, loved early classics in world literature. Buechner writes about his lifelong love of L. Frank Baum's Oz novels, among many other novels.
Writing in this same vein is Sarah Arthur, author of the new At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer.
Just like a passage out of Lewis or Buechner, Sarah quickly takes us into a beloved library from her childhood. After such early adventures in the pages of great writers: "We remember certain scenes from certain books like we remember major life events: they become part of our personal histories, listed among the episodes that marked turning points in our lives. Indeed, many of us might include a poet or an author, whether dead or living, among our spiritual mentors. On a quiet evening, culrled up with a good story, we have encountered the memorable character, the articulate phrase, the evocative image, the small suggestion, the smuggled truth, the shattering epiphany, which changed us, and we weren't even looking to be changed. It enriched our lives, and we didn't even know our own poverty. We were not the same people afterward."
At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer is available now from Amazon-and you will not be the same person afterward.
_ And now, here is Sarah Arthur herself in ... _
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH SARAH ARTHUR
ABOUT AT THE STILL POINT: A LITERARY GUIDE TO PRAYER
SARAH ARTHUR, courtesy of her publisher.
DAVID: You say that this book is an attempt to marry two worlds: Christianity and literature. I guess I would start by saying that they always have been a part of the same world. In your introduction you recall the era when many big churches included lending libraries with a wide range of books. But, I do understand your argument that, today, faith and literature often seem divided.
SARAH: It's vital to nurture our imagination with great literature. Too often, when we are thinking about faith, we tend to sideline something like a contemporary poem as having been written just for our entertainment. We don't see the connections that we can make with the poet. Poetry has been so denigrated in our society today that about the only place most people expect to find it is in a Hallmark card. We've forgotten that God speaks to us through our imagination. We know this as children and we continue to witness this even when we're grown up. Sometimes we see this in its purest form when we're interacting with children. But most of us are told that we should grow out of this. Imaginative people, at a certain point, seem dangerous to us.
Too many people confuse the spiritual life with a cut-and-dried following of strict precepts. There is no space left for the creative imagination. There are writers and artists who are trying to do the same thing I'm doing in this new book with music or with the visual arts. My specialty happens to be literature. So, I have focused these readings in that realm.
More than appreciating literature, we need to acknowledge again that our imagination is a gift. It is a mark of the Creator within us. To exercise imagination is to live into part of that image of God. J.R.R. Tolkien often said: We are sub-creators. We make because we were made. We begin to treat scripture as if it is an encyclopedia or textbook and we lose the creative imagination that's right there at the center of our faith.
DAVID: You're best known for books, which we will mention in our overview story, for younger readers. You've written books of meditations on Tolkien's and Lewis' fantasy novels. But, this new book feels more like a book aimed at adults. Did you consciously plan it that way? You've got guides to literary imagination already for younger readers-now it's time for a more adult guide to prayer fueled by literature?
SARAH: That's a good question: Is this more for adults than students? But, I think that the answer depends on the reader. I remember having a conversation with some high school students and they were complaining that what passes for Christian fiction these days makes them gag. These Christian novels were being pushed on them by adults who love them. And I told them: Try reading something different like Crime and Punishment. I remember a student coming back, thanking me for the suggestion and telling me: That's the most amazing book I've ever read.
I've had a lot of experiences with young people reading literary classics and really responding to them. I think we underestimate what young adults can handle and appreciate.
DAVID: How about the Twilight sensation that's sweeping the country this autumn, once again, as we approach the release of this new movie?
SARAH: Twilight certainly is wonderful for younger readers right now. It's this journey of the imagination that, in many ways, is quite creative. But there's so much more out there than Twilight. If you enjoyed those novels, don't stop there! If you love fantasy, there's Wind in the Willows. There's Hans Christian Anderson. There's George Macdonald.
DAVID: The fact is that our world has produced countless literary geniuses and many of them are right here in the pages of your book: Jane Austin, Garrison Keillor, G.K. Chesterton, Herman Melville. As you demonstrate in these pages, there is no shortage of terrific literature to stir the spirit!
SARAH: That's right. And I know that each reader will be drawn to some works more than others. Someone will pick up this book and get hooked on Jane Austin's Northanger Abbey-or perhaps they might discover a great classic like George Eliot's Middlemarch that might take them a whole season to read. Some people today still get hooked on Tolstoy and, if Tolstoy is your choice, then you're going to be reading for a while. I don't expect readers to enjoy every selection I provide in the book. This is more of a sampler.
DAVID: One great thing about your book is that, if readers do get a taste for the classics, many of them are easily available. If you suddenly become a fan of Tolstoy, for example, there's one edition of his works that costs just 99 cents on a Kindle.
SARAH: That's right. I want people to choose what inspires them. I want people to feel free to read at their own pace. The last thing in the world I want to become is someone's 9th grade English teacher, assigning them to meet deadlines to get a good grade. I want people to pursue their delights. And, if you pick up this new book and discover that something lights up your day-then for heaven's sake grab that and carry it with you for a while and enjoy it.
We know from ancient times that the Divine qualities include truth, goodness and beauty. In most churches, we get a lot of the truth and goodness part of this message, but I think we're losing sight of the beauty as a part of our experience of the Divine. It's God's beauty that often compels the transformations that truly open up our lives.
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Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.