Gregory Wolfe has an excellent two-part article in the online journal, Image, (of which he is editor) this week called “The Contemporary Novel of Belief.” You can read it on the Image blog, “Good Letters,” here:
The article interests me on several fronts. Initially my interest was piqued because Wolfe is writing about Paul Elie, the author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, a braided biography of four American Catholic authors: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. As a Christian, and as an author, these writers interest me greatly. (Here goes the old argument: notice that I said “as a Christian and as an author,” not “as a Christian author.” I’ll leave that discussion for another time.)
… what we lack today is fiction set in the present moment that is centrally about the struggle with belief.
… the myth of secularism triumphant in the literary arts is just that—a myth.
The point is Wolfe and Elie have been bantering back and forth since Elie’s essay in the New York Times (December 2012) “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?” Wolfe wrote a reply in the Wall Street Journal (January 2013), “Whispers of Faith in a Postmodern World.”
Today the faith found in literature is more whispered than shouted. Perhaps a new Flannery O’Connor will rise, but meanwhile we might try listening more closely to the still, small voice that is all around us.
And later he says:
Indeed, there is something deeply sacramental in the notion that faith inheres in the ordinary, the quotidian stuff of work and family. It might even be argued that the natural language of faith within the arts is precisely the sacramental whisper.
The novel I’m currently revising is shot through with characters struggling with belief. And they are mostly artists. My prose isn’t of the same caliber as Mary Karr or Annie Dillard—only two of many contemporary authors who write about this struggle with belief—but I’m doing my best to keep the sacramental whisper alive in modern fiction.
[In addition to Image, Wolfe founded the Seattle Pacific University MFA in Creative Writing Program. He’s the author of numerous books, including Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age.]