I’ve been planning to reread Pilgrim at Tinker Creek soon, having recently purchased the audiobook. This brought Dillard to mind and I remembered an online friend including Holy the Firm among his favorite books. I pulled it off the shelf to read a couple lines. I read the entire thing in one sitting. It’s short, so that’s not some great achievement time commitment wise. But the book is a marvel.
Dillard’s writing is Psalm-like. It is in an ecstatic mode intended to evoke awe at nature, often turning that towards God. That is what attracted me to her writing at the time. What discomfited me was how her God never really fit squarely with Christianity. As she said in a later work, For the Time Being, she was spiritually promiscuous. Much of her work seemed borderline pantheistic. Like Frederick Buechner, she dealt very frankly with doubt. I last read Holy the Firm at 2002. At the time I was devout and a stickler for orthodoxy. I was just then learning to doubt and feeling the first rumblings of the unease with Evangelicalism that ultimately led to me leaving it. I wasn’t entirely ready for the book at the time. Reading it again now without the need to try to squeeze it into an orthodox shape was a profound experience.
The three essays here contain some indelible images. A moth flies into a flame. A plane wrecks and injures an innocent child. From these Dillard crafts what are essentially prose poems. They are worth reading just for the prose. But her act of looking so closely at these images forces the reader to observe their own surroundings in a similar way.