Our Sunday School class has been going through Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor, and this week was Annie Dillard. I am quite a fan of Annie Dillard, and have quoted before this favorite passage of hers:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” -Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
I read The Maytrees and I kind of thought it was a book teaching me How to Live. I think her writing is beautiful, even if the nature stuff honestly doesn’t do much for me. In Sunday School someone asked me why I like her so much, then, and part of my answer had to do with the fact that she is an unabashed intellectual. I have seen in modern-day evangelicalism a real anti-intellectualism, and when I was in college, there were some people around me who said things that indicated that what was really important about being in college was not going to class, but being a soldier for the Lord. Thankfully, it was also about this time that I discovered Annie Dillard, and her writing helped answer that question for me. I wouldn’t call myself an intellectual, but she helped me feel as if it would be okay to prioritize learning and education – not above God, but as part of our lives here on earth.
What I didn’t say in Sunday School because I was fleshing it out was that I was probably also drawn to Annie Dillard because she is so comfortable in her own skin, because she seems able to say what she thinks without qualifying or explaining. I suffer so much from wanting to be understood, but much of what Annie Dillard says is obtuse, and she does not apologize for that.
We had a wonderful restful Christmas vacation, and I am so grateful to have the kind of job where I can have two weeks off. It was a difficult Christmas in some ways – the loss of our friend, some unexpected family drama. Things that are difficult to explain, things that leave me feeling misunderstood. Those things combined to make me a little bit melancholy the week after Christmas, dwelling too much on the things that we do not have. My default in those situations is to be jealous and angry of the things that others have that I do not. I took some runs over the week and cried and raged my way through the neighborhood. I ran as I listened to songs asking God to, “Come with your light and fill up my heart.”
I don’t even know what that means sometimes, because all I see is the darkness.
So, of course, on Sunday, we sang “We Three Kings” for Epiphany. I love that song, but I was faced once again with this idea of God’s light shining in the darkness. I saw it on Christmas Eve as my family spoke about the things we are thankful for, as we sang “Silent Night” by candlelight, as we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas with our friends. I saw it on New Year’s as we spent time with friends who love and care for us. I saw it over and over this Christmas season: concerts and lunches and coffee and people stopping by to see us. Our family and people who are family for us (because they know we are a little short on family in some quarters). They have been like the Christmas star for me as they guided me to Jesus’ light.
“God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.
Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.
You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.” -Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
Without the darkness, I would not be quite as grateful for the light.