Annie Dillard, For the Time Being, 1999.
I re-read, from time to time. You may, reading this entry, be interested in reading about the last time I read this book--though I said even less about it, then, in January of 2004.
There’s an elusiveness to Dillard’s musings. She presents an idea, and then a story. A reflection, and another story, and another idea. Seemingly unconnected they weave together with a lack of tangibility akin to the attempt to dance about architecture.
This book about life, and its essential nature as ephemeral. About death, and its pervasiveness. About meaning, in a life lived—and that lack of tangibility beyond a mere moment. About theodicy, and about what it means to believe, to be in relationship with God.
There is a striking beauty in this patchwork quilt of ideas, thoughts, and reflections. The spare-ness of Dillard’s writing combines with the weight of the subject and with her unflagging sense of wonder in the face of life, death, God, and existence, to create a book that is not sum-up-able in a short post on this blog. Rather, the book is an experience designed to awaken questions in the mind of the reader, and to provide an organising metaphor or two—to provide an image—that might help the reader struggle with these perennial questions. Dillard returns, time and again, to the prayers of thanksgiving of the Jewish community, at every aspect (both positive and negative) of life, and to the thought and wonder of the Jesuit geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I don’t know if the second will provide lasting insight for me. Certainly, the contrast between the vastness of time of geologic processes and the brevity of our lived experience is telling, but I feel a degree of being unsettled that makes me long for some of the unwoven threads of this book to be more neatly tied together. I don’t yet know if that’s a desire reflective of an incompleteness that should not be, or of an incompleteness that is me not yet fully engaged with the questions Dillard raises for me. I do know it’s a book to which I will need to return.