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202 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE Photo by Nancy Crampton Marilynne Robinson Christianity and Literature Vol. 59, No.2 (Winter 2010) SPECIAL FEATURE Wondrous Love Marilynne Robinson I have reached the point in my life when I can see what has mattered, what has become a part of its substance-I might say a part of my substance. Some of these things are obvious, since they have been important to me in my career as a student and teacher. But some of them I could never have anticipated. The importance to me of elderly and old American hymns is certainlyone example. They can move me so deeply that Ihave difficulty even speaking about them. The old ballad in the voice of Mary Magdalene, who "walked in the garden alone:' imagines her "tarrying" there with the newly risen Jesus, in the light of a dawn which was certainly the most remarkable daybreak since God said, "Let there be light:' The song acknowledges this with fine understatement: "The joy we share as we tarry there / None other has ever known:' Who can imagine the joy she would have felt? And how lovely it is that the song tells us the joy of this encounter was Jesus' as well as Mary's. Epochal as the moment is, and inconceivable as Jesus' passage from death to life must be, they meet as friends and rejoice together as friends. This seems to me as good a gloss as any on the text that tells us God so loved the world, this world, our world. And for a long time, until just a decade ago, at most, I disliked this hymn, in part because to this day I have never heard it sung well. Maybe it can't be sung well. The lyrics are uneven, and the tune is bland and grossly sentimental. But I have come to a place in my life where the thought of people moved by the imagination of joyful companionship with Christ is so precious that every fault becomes a virtue. I wish I could hear again every faltering soprano who has ever raised this song to heaven. God bless them all. Editorial Note: This essay was first delivered in June 2009 at the Christian Scholars' Conference hosted by Lipscomb University under the theme "The Power of Narrative:' Robinson's plenary address was a highlight of the conference dedicated to creating and nurturing an intellectual and Christian community 203 204 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE There is another song I think about, very germane to this conference- "I Love to Tell the Story:' The words that are striking to me are these-"I love to tell the story, for those who know it best / Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest" This is true. Of course those who know it best would be those who, over time, put themselves in the way of hearing it. Nevertheless, ifwestern history has proved one thing, it is that the narratives of the Bible are essentially inexhaustible. The Bible is terse, the Gospels are brief, and the result is that every moment and detail merits pondering, and can always appear in a richer light. The Bibleis about human beings, human families-in comparison with other ancient literatures the realism of the Bibleis utterly remarkable-so we can bring our own feelings to bear in the reading of it. In fact, we cannot do otherwise, if we know the old, old story well enough to give it a life in our thoughts. There is something about being human that makes us love and crave grand narratives. Greek and Roman boys memorized Homer. This was a large part of their education, just as memorizing the Koran is now for many boys in Islamic cultures. And this isone means bywhich importanttraditions are preserved and made in effect the major dialects of their civilizations. that joins individuals and institutions to stimulate networks of scholarly dialogue and collaboration. Framing Robinson's talk were two piano pieces performed by Dr. Jerome Reed, Professor of Music at Lipscomb, the closing rendition arranged especially for the conference by BillWolaver.The first selection was "Improvisations on 'Balm in Gilead" composed by Joseph Martin. Acknowledging one...


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