Saturday, April 12, 2008

Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard

"I know only enough of God to want to worship him..." -Holy the Firm (p. 55)

Though I have read many things about Annie Dillard and read many snippets from her various works, this is the first of her books that I have read from cover to cover. In short it was a challenge, but a challenge that I absolutely loved! Dillard writes about the world in a way that connects the dots of life and time, from our most obscure thoughts to our humorous daily routines to our most painful realities. In the opening chapter we find a sensational description of a spider who has taken up residence in Dillard's bathroom, and of her familiarity with owls and moths. With chapter 2 comes chaos, when little Julie Norwich is burned badly in a plane crash. Dillard expresses well the deep emotion of such an experience, and puts words to the questions about God and suffering that all of us ask from time to time. In an ironic and humorous change of subject she speaks of attending church, and of her inner turmoil at being the one on a mission to buy the communion wine.

"How can I buy the communion wine? Who am I to buy the communion wine? Someone has to buy the communion wine. Having wine instead of grape juice was my idea, and of course I offered to buy it. Shouldn't I be wearing robes and, especially, a mask? Shouldn't I make the communion wine? Are there holy grapes, is there holy ground, is anything here holy? There are no holy grapes, there is no holy ground, nor is there anyone but us." (p. 63)

This fact that there is "no one but us" is the theme of the third and final chapter. With dramatic emphasis she refutes over and over our false idea that there is someone more worthy to act, someone more Godly, someone more simple and thus, more able. But there is no one but us. Dillard challenges the notion that we are "ordinary" people by painting a beautiful picture.

"Christ is being baptized. The one who is Christ is there, and the one who is John, and the dim other people standing on cobbles or sitting on beach logs back from the bay. These are ordinary people - if I am one now, if those are ordinary sheep singing a song in the pasture." (p. 66)

To read this book seemed like an intimate peek into the realities of humanities' soul, and the endless mysteries that can be found there. I just might have cried at the end, when Dillard imagines Julie Norwich with her badly burned face as a nun and implores her, "Look how he loves you!" (p. 74). A single woman herself, Dillard wishes this very special romance with God for little Julie.

"Be victim to abruptness and seizures, events intercalated, swellings of heart. You'll climb trees. You won't be able to sleep, or need to, for the joy of it. Mornings, when light spreads over the pastures like wings, and fans a secret color into everything, and beats the trees senseless with beauty, so that you can't tell whether the beauty is in the trees - dazzling in cells like yello sparks or green flashing waters - or on them - transfiguring silver air charged with the wings' invisible motion; mornings, you won't be able to walk for the power of it: earth's too round... Then you kneel, clattering with thoughts, ill, or some days erupting, some days holding the altar rail, gripping the brass-bolt altar rail, so you won't fly." (p. 75)


David G. said...

Hey Ginna!

Well you're reputation definitely preceded your return to "Wahpetonia". Everyone had really great things to say about you!

I definitely miss Sam and Sarah and the rest of my wonderful MN/ND friends. I'd love to visit again shortly... Hopefully sooner than later! :-)

Well, keep enjoying life... after reading through some of your blog here it sounds like God has you in a good place. I always cherish those seasons of my life where i've had long chunks of time just to hang with Jesus!


Allison Nisbet said...

Beautiful review of my very favorite book!