St Patrick’s College Maynooth host the annual Michael Devlin Lecture. Previous speakers have included some guy called Tom Wright and another fella called Volf. In other words, the live up to the goal to invite someone who has made an outstanding contribution to their field.
Here are some reflections (not a summary) hot off the press from tonight’s lecture from your faithful correspondent.
Gilead and Home are suffused with compassion, humanity, understanding, grace, and a sense of the divine in the midst of everyday life and relationships. You care deeply about the characters and the story. In an interview on RTE radio she said that she grieved for the characters when she finished writing and you can understand why.
Listening to Marilynne speak – and engage with questions – those same qualities were there in the flesh rather than the imagination. It was unlike a lecture, more an honest, autobiographical, flowing, poetic series of observations constructed from within a profoundly Christian sensibility.
She was ‘speaking Christian’ – unashamedly and unhesitatingly articulating what it is to think and be as someone who belongs to the triune God. Someone whose thought world and identity have been and are shaped by the limitless nature of God’s grace, fear of the Lord, humility, love, God’s loyalty to humanity, compassion, forgiveness, awe, wonder, beauty and the sacredness of life and all creation.
Marilynne in short, speaks and is, Calvinism at its best.
She is well aware of Calvinism at its worst. Too often orthodoxy has been marred by rigidity, meanness and judgementalism. Calvin is routinely caricatured as being all three. But while not true of him, is can be true of many of his heirs. She joked of how while much of Protestant mainline churches became embarrassed to be Christian, many new (evangelical?) churches have too little embarrassment about their over-confidence, lack of self-reflection, divisiveness and where ‘truth’ is a known entity – something to have control over.
She knows that God loves others more than she does. She knows each century is just about as brutal as the technology of that era has allowed. She knows that we are always a mortal threat to ourselves but the goodness of God will win out.
She knows that to be Christian is to be part of a living tradition, a community of faith, of sacrament and of the preached word. She knows that such a faith is virtually unintelligible to the contemporary modern world but that it was also so right from the beginning.
Her humanity and honesty shone through as she spoke of a period of depression / despair in the long hiatus between Housekeeping and Gilead and how God spoke to even rationalist academic like her in a dream.
This sounds peculiar from a person who is a Christian, works in a Christian organisation and is an elder in a Christian church, but it is not often you hear someone so authentically and naturally show their joy in and love for God. Not even in so many words, but in the whole talk. For one or two people there this was all a bit too particular, and narrow and, well, Christian. Her answer – it is through the particularity of the gospel that you reach universal truths.
And you can’t get any more particular than Jesus. Her talk began and ended with him. He is truth. His followers are called to participate in him through the breaking of bread and the drinking of the wine.
Thank you Marilynne for an evening of refreshment for the soul.