Coleridge is a monthly digest of significant developments in theology and the arts.
By Ben Lima
Wyatt Mason profiles the acclaimed poet and practicing Episcopalian Shane McCrae on the occasion of his new memoir, in which he comes to terms with having been kidnapped at the age of 3 from his Black father by his white grandparents. McCrae recalls that in his youth, “there was this kind of feeling that if you had a Christian belief, you can’t believe in God and be smart. That was the feeling I got in the circles I ran in. And I felt really weird about it, really insecure, because I did believe.”
At the age of 19, McCrae prayed for a sign while visiting Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, and found the exit road blocked by two fallen trees. Not yet convinced that God would have knocked down the trees for his sake, he was not baptized until 10 years later, while attending Harvard Law School and taking classes at Episcopal Divinity School on the side. He has written long poems on purgatory, heaven, and hell, which Mason describes as “a kind of Commedia, written by someone who believes equally in the word and the Word” (The New York Times).
A.E. Stallings has been elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford (The Telegraph), and Ryan Ruby reviews Stallings’s This Afterlife: Selected Poems: “in the right poet’s hands, the putative everydayness of the hic et nunc can be transformed into something every bit as rich and strange as even the most ancient myths” (The Nation).
David G. Bonagura reviews The Saint Mary’s Book of Christian Verse: “Mysteries require odes, not emails” (The University Bookman), and Nick Ripatrazone reviews Dana Gioia’s translation of Seneca’s The Madness of Hercules: “Seneca’s Inferno [is] a vision of hell without the consolations of Christian redemption” (Catholic Herald).
Robert S. Erickson reviews Jane Clark Scharl’s verse play Sonnez Les Matines, in which John Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, and François Rabelais spend a Shrove Tuesday evening together in Paris: “At different points in the evening, each of the three is suspected of the murder. … A clue might be found in the Christian sacrament of confession” (The Spectator).
Eleanor Parker explains the “speaking tree” in the Anglo-Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood, which tells the story of the Crucifixion from the perspective of the Cross (Plough), and Jonathan B. Himes reviews Ben J. Reinhard’s new translation of Beowulf: “an Old Testament-style prehistory of the English” (The University Bookman).
Paul Krause reviews Darren Dyck’s new book, Will & Love: Shakespeare and the Motion of the Soul, which finds Augustine’s theology of love in four of the dramatic romances (VoegelinView), and Micah Mattix criticizes contemporary oversimplifications of Hamlet: “ Instead of the play’s tragic view of life, we get one that is naive, where “bad” people get what they deserve and everything turns out all right in the end” (Washington Examiner).
Jason Baxter contrasts the Tao of William Butler Yeats’s poem “A Prayer for my Daughter” with Mark Zuckerberg’s mechanistic production model (Church Life Journal), while Sarah Horgan contrasts “true myth” with “the machine perspective” in several Christian authors (Ekstasis).
Makoto Fujimura’s 2023 Kuyper Prize lecture, “Kintsugi Grace — Prismatic Art beyond the Rainbow,” is online (Makoto Fujimura), and in a Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, Jess Sweeney interviews “mother-artist” Lee Nowell-Wilson (Dappled Things).
England’s new Faith Museum, opening in October, has launched a campaign to buy a 16th-century tapestry, Saint Paul Directing the Burning of Heathen Books, described as “effectively the birth certificate of the Church of England,” to join numerous other interesting objects (The Guardian).
Thomas Weinandy puts forward a theological and spiritual interpretation of the San Damiano crucifix, before which Saint Francis received his commission from Christ while praying in the year 1206 (Church Life Journal), Julian Bell reviews Saint Francis of Assisi at the National Gallery, London (The New York Review of Books), and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s commentary on Caravaggio’s artificial light is online (The Paris Review).
Gregory DiPippo introduces the new edition of Hubert van Zeller’s 1959 book, Approach to Christian Sculpture (New Liturgical Movement), and Max Pensky reports on the discovery of an engraving of Martin Luther, hidden behind Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus (Commonweal).
Jonathan Evens offers a meditation on a painting, The Nun, by Catholic convert Gwen John (ArtWay). Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris, an exhibition curated by Alicia Foster and now on view at the Pallant House Gallery, is reviewed by Harriet Baker (Apollo), Rachel Spence (Financial Times), Sara Faith (ArtLyst), and its catalogue is reviewed by Ann Landi (The Wall Street Journal).
Witold Rybczynski calls for a restoration of the balance between invention and imitation in architecture (The Hedgehog Review).
Alan Jacobs makes a detailed and probing case for Thomas Pynchon as contemporary America’s theological diagnostician: “In tracing so profoundly these countervailing forces of spiritual totalitarianism and a dream of divine justice, Pynchon offers the essential theological account of our era” (The Hedgehog Review), while Gus Mitchell deems Pynchon a prophet: “the impulse toward control, toward totalizing systems—the impulse of those we allow to rule us—leads into unfreedom and, finally, to doom” (Compact).
J.C. Scharl reviews Jonathan Leaf’s City of Angles: “a study of culture negativa … a tale of false worship, of the misplaced piety that sucks out the soul instead of sustaining it” (Modern Age) and eulogizes “the violent faith of Cormac McCarthy” (Religion & Liberty Journal).
Jennifer Wilson reviews Michael Katz’s new translation of The Brothers Karamazov (The New Yorker), Katz writes about his translation (Literary Hub), and Garrett Soucy reflects on the novel’s message for ministers of the gospel: “In Father Zossima’s stench, there is a prescient warning for ministers contemplating their own earthly impact and the nature of the legacy they will leave behind them” (Theopolis).
Eugene Vodolazkin’s new novel, A History of the Island, is reviewed by Jeffry Bilbro (Current) and Gary Saul Morson (The Wall Street Journal), while Morson’s new book Wonder Confronts Certainty: Russian Writers on the Timeless Questions and Why Their Answers Matter is reviewed by Lee Trepanier (Public Discourse), Daniel J. Mahoney (The New Criterion), Micah Mattix (Washington Examiner), Spencer A. Klavan (Law & Liberty), and Boyd Tonkin (The Wall Street Journal).
Serena Sigillito interviews Karen Swallow Prior about Prior’s new book, The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis (Public Discourse) and James K.A. Smith interviews Christopher Beha about his Catholic fiction (Image).
Sara Kyoungah White interviews Jessica Hooten Wilson: “Is It Possible to Fall in Love with God through Fiction?” (Ecstatic), Rachel B. Griffis reviews Wilson’s book Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice (Front Porch Republic), and an excerpt from the book, about Dorothy L. Sayers’s drama on the life of Christ, The Man Born to Be King, is online (Plough).
David Deavel reviews CUA Press’s new edition of The Dry Wood by Caryll Houselander: “what unites all of [her characters] is the need to discover Christ in the here and now, to discover joy in feasting through the joy of asceticism, to find the hidden triumph amid suffering” (The Imaginative Conservative), and Joseph Pearce reviews Avellina Balestri’s Saplings of Sherwood: “As near to the real or legendary Robin Hood as any of us is likely to get” (The Imaginative Conservative).
Ephraim Radner reflects on the 1956 novel Houseboy by the Cameroonian author Ferdinand Oyono (First Things), John Duggan writes about the Catholic Millennials in Sally Rooney’s novels (First Things), and Jason Berry writes about “the maddening riddle of Graham Greene’s religiosity” in reviewing a new memoir by Michael Mewshaw (Commonweal).
Jeremy Begbie offers a glimpse into the boundless abundance of Bach, who “invites us to hear the interweaving of radical consistency and radical openness … There is nothing deterministic about [Bach’s music], and yet it is anything but arbitrary or absurd-sounding” (Seen & Unseen), and Valerie Stivers reviews Michael Marissen’s Bach Against Modernity (Compact).
On the 400th anniversary of the death of recusant composer William Byrd, he is remembered by Julian Kwasniewski (Catholic World Report), Hugh Morris (The New York Times), Ivan Hewett (The Telegraph), and a panel of contemporary composers (Gramophone).
The Metropolitan Opera’s high-definition broadcast of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, which tells the story of 16 Carmelite nuns martyred during the French Revolution, is reviewed by Algis Valiunas (First Things), Paul Krause (VoegelinView), and Michael De Sapio (The Imaginative Conservative)
Fugue State Films is soliciting support to produce a new film: Lighten Our Darkness: Illuminating Choral Evensong; Brian Volck profiles the composer Robert Kyr, who finds that Native American chant and Eastern Orthodox liturgy share concerns for the harmony of nature and the connectedness of humanity (Image); and Roseanne T. Sullivan has an in-depth feature on Fiat Lux, the oratorio by Sir James MacMillan and Dana Gioia (Benedict XVI Institute).
Michael de Sapio reviews Peter Kwasniewski’s new book Good Music, Sacred Music, and Silence: Three Gifts of God for Liturgy and for Life: “Dr. Kwasniewski thus leads us on a sort of spiritual ascent from good music (music for enjoyment) to sacred music (music for worship) to the beauty of silent contemplation” (The Imaginative Conservative).
Film & TV
The Episcopal Steenbeck family are central characters in Wes Anderson’s film Asteroid City, reviewed by Peter Tonguette (Religion & Liberty Online), Blake Nail (Mockingbird), and Joe George (Sojourners). Andrew Petiprin considers Asteroid City in the context of Oppenheimer and Mission: Impossible (Catholic World Report).
John Semley explains Robert Oppenheimer’s appreciation for the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita (“Song of God”): its “prizing of dharma, and duty as a form of virtue, gave Oppenheimer’s anguished mind a form of calm” (Wired).
Amy Peeler reviews Barbie: “The inverted world of Barbieland exposes a sadly common misinterpretation of Eve in Genesis 2:18” (Holy Post), and LuElla D’Amico writes about the depiction of death in children’s movies (Church Life Journal).
Ben Christenson sees contrasting visions of the religious life in The Mandalorian: “Ahsoka is a type of the millennial ‘deconstructing’ her faith … [H]owever, when Din Djarin, aka Mando, is presented with the opportunity to apostatize, he remains true to his faith” (Front Porch Republic).