Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas Meditation

Until recently, I had read very little of the work of Marilynne Robinson, the prize-winning American author. Then came her interviews in the New York Review of Books with President Obama last month, in which he confesses to being a great fan of her thoughtful fiction, which is seen as unique in today's world by being both intellectually challenging and infused with Christian thought. She has been praised for being critical yet also positive in viewing cultural conflicts (gun violence, atheism, gender, etc.).

Robinson strikes me in some ways as another Gary Wills, a public intellectual who looks at big issues historically and from the perspective of a committed Christian, deeply informed about American culture. Both can be opinionated, contrary, original, and deeply engaged in the main issues of our time, including the relation between science and faith. Whereas Wills is a Catholic historian, Robinson is a Protestant novelist and intellectual.

Robinson tackles many such issues in her newest book of essays, The Givenness of Things.  I am especially intrigued by her fresh take on Calvin in her essay on metaphysics, which she defines in her own way.

One piece struck me as giving some fresh insight into the mystery of the Incarnation, which Christians celebrate this week: the Son of God becoming man.  Robinson, reflecting on several Biblical passages (including the opening of the Gospel of John and Col. 1: 15-20), tries to show what it means that, even before he became human two thousand years ago, Christ existed as the "first-born of all creation."  Christ was implicitly present, she suggests, in the poor and humble from the very beginning, "from the primordial moment when human circumstance began to call for justice and generosity."

So before there was Jesus there was always Christ, the divine Son, existing (not merely in some vague heavenly realm) metaphysically in humankind before the Nativity, before he became physically present as a man. "In the beginning was the Word. . ."

I welcome this elegantly thought-out reflection since I need a fresh way to think about these timeless mysteries, and I am grateful to Ms. Robinson for her essay. I must now read more of her work.

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