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Christianity and Literature Vol. 59, No.2 (Winter 2010) "The Courage to See It": Toward an Understanding of Glory Jennifer L. Holberg Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. Youdon't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? - Marilynne Robinson (Gilead 245) And since the glory of [God's] power and wisdom shine more brightly above, heaven is often called his palace [Ps. 11:4]. Yet ... wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of his glory. You cannot in one glance survey this most vast and beautiful system of the universe, in its wide expanse, without being completely overwhelmed by the boundless force of its brightness. ... Certainly however much the glory of God shines forth, scarcely one man in a hundred is a true spectator of it. - John Calvin (Institutes ofthe Christian Religion 52, 61) If one generalization might be made about Marilynne Robinson's body of work, both fiction and nonfiction (risky and presumptuous as I realize such a gesture to be), it is that her writing urges us again and again to pay attention to what she calls in her first novel, Housekeeping, the "resurrection of the ordinary" (18). As anyone with even a passing familiarity with Robinson's work knows, her project is deeply embedded in a rich Christian theology-one that considers "fragments of the quotidian" (64) (another winsome phrase from Housekeeping) integral to any conception of the holy. Significantly, Robinson's theology is explicitly and insistently Calvinist; in interview after interview, in her essays and speeches, she invokes John Calvin as central to her artistic mission. As she explained in a June 2009 interview with Andrew Brown of Britain's Guardian newspaper, 283 284 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE One of the things that has really struck me, reading Calvin, is what a strong sense he has that the aesthetic is the signature of the divine. If someone in some sense lives a life that we can perceive as beautiful in its own way, that is something that suggests grace, even if by a strict moral standard ... they might seem to fail. (Robinson, "Comment Is Pree") If Robinson's goal is to explore this "signature of the divine;' then, her essay on Psalm Eight articulates what I believe might be taken as a sort of credo. She writes: I have spent my life watching, not to see beyond the world, merely to see, great mystery, what is plainly before my eyes. I think the concept of transcendence is based on a misreading of creation. With all respect to heaven, the scene of miracle is here, among us. (The Death ofAdam 243) Thus, although Psalm 8 opens with the majestic declaration of God's heavenly splendor: ("0 LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens")', importantly, the Psalm is not merely one ofpraise, but one that examines in verses three through five how an exalted view of God affects humanity's view of itself: 3When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? sPorthou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Here, what Robinson calls "the strategy of the Psalmist .. , to close the infinite distance between God and humankind" (Adam 240) has profound consequences, as she articulated while on a panel with Robert Alter at New York's92nd Street Y: One of the things that is so striking to me about the Bible,the literature of the Bible altogether, is that it has named human writers. And they are human: you know, the Psalms despair and the prophets lament and all that sort of thing. They feel weakness-and you feel the burden of their humanity in something that is, nevertheless, received as being a sacred testimony. It seems to me that that's one of...


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pp. 283-300
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