Suffering is common to us all, but certainly not equally. Many times it intrudes randomly and with such cruelty, we wonder how a good God could allow it. Albert Camus (born this day in 1913) was a leading voice in the struggle for understanding, and he believed understanding was the best we could hope for. In his book The Absurd Man, he wrote: “the clerk in the post office is the equal of a conqueror if consciousness is common to them.” Today we call such a person “Woke.” It comes at a price.
Musical genius Felix Mendelssohn died on this day, November 4th in 1847. His beautiful work was notable for many things, but perhaps most stunning was the ease with which it seemed to flow from his creativity. While many masterpieces are the result of the painful toil of an anguished artist, there are others who seem to produce greatness with little invested suffering. Mendelssohn understood his genius as a gift from God but also recognized his stewardship. He said, “I know perfectly well that no musician can make his thoughts or talents different to what Heaven has made them; but I also know that if Heaven has given him good ones, he must also be able to develop them properly.”
John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, was published on this day in 1960. It was only his second novel, but it confirmed his place in the ranks of contemporary Masters of Literature. He said he loved Christianity because it was a religion of “yes” rather than “no.” In his study of Updike, writer Jack de Bellis wrote: “Updike has repeatedly remarked that a God who is not part of daily human affairs is not very real for him. Barth provided him with a God who infuses himself in all aspects of his Creation, thus enabling Updike to “open to the world again.” So, Barth, with T. S. Eliot, G. K. Chesterton, and Miguel Unamuno, helped him “believe.”
That’s the beauty of Christianity – we help each other believe.
Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.
Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.
Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.
Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.
I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.
Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is the devil’s masterpiece.
Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.
At least that’s what he thought. Michelangelo always thought of himself as a sculptor, but in this case, he didn’t have a choice. Pope Julius II decided that the little chapel needed improvement and he assigned Michelangelo to the task. Though he accepted the duty grudgingly, he decided to make the most of it.
Literature isn’t kind to November. As Tom Nissley reminds us in his Reader’s Book of Days when Ishmael leaves Manhattan for New Bedford and the sea in Moby-Dick, it may be December on the calendar, but he’s driven there, to the openness of oceans, by “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.” And where else could Dickens’s Bleak House begin but, bleakly, in “implacable November,” with dogs and horses mired in mud, pedestrians “jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper” (not unlike Ishmael “deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off”), and, of course, the English fog. Jane Eyre begins on a “drear November day,” with a “pale blank of mist and cloud” and “ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.” And it’s on a “dreary night in November,” as “rain pattered dismally against the panes,” that Victor Frankenstein, blindly engrossed in his profane labors as the seasons have passed by outside, first sees the spark of life in the watery eyes of his creation. Is it any wonder that Meg in Little Women thinks that “November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year”?
Here on Literary Life, we have a more cheerful view. The month before Advent is a beautiful occasion to give thanks as we look forward to the annual gatherings of family and friends to commence the holiday season. Literary Life is a nod to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria which poet and priest Malcolm Guite describes as “…an eclectic mix of autobiography, philosophical history, literary criticism, rambling anecdote, and radical new theology, all held together and threaded through with a constant witness to the power of the Logos, to the great analogy of language. At its heart is the idea that the cosmos is spoken into being by Mind, that nature is itself a kind of language, and that our own use of language is, therefore, a series of clues as to the meaning of both mind and cosmos. So the literary criticism and the theology are not separate and disparate parts of the book; they are the same thing.”
In this gathering of readers from around the world, thanks will indeed be given. In addition to this site, our closest friends from over 130 countries meet in our Facebook discussion group, which you can join by clicking HERE.
Come. Read with us as you live your Literary Life.
Rick Wilcox | Editor in Chief