Grace In The Arts: Annie Dillard: Mistaken Mystic? -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 20:38 (Spring 2007)
Article: Grace In The Arts: Annie Dillard: Mistaken Mystic?
Author: James A. Townsend


Grace In The Arts: Annie Dillard: Mistaken Mystic?

James A. Townsend

Elgin, Illinois

I. Introduction

When Annie Dillard won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, many Evangelical Christians thought they had discovered a kindred spirit. However, “Dillard has called herself a Christian mystic whose audience is primarily agnostic nonbelievers, [and] she considers herself an artist rather than a theologian or exegete.”1 This is both her strength and weakness, for we are blessed by the artistry, but cursed by the ambiguity.

The principal problem an Evangelical Christian has with Annie Dillard’s publications is that instead of inching toward greater assured truth as revealed in Scripture, she focuses instead on the mystical aspects of Christianity. Particularly in regard to what is unrevealed, unknowable, or uncertain about the Bible, God, Christ, sin, and salvation.

II. A Brief Biography

Annie Dillard grew up in Pittsburgh, PA with the name Meta Ann Doak. Annie’s growing-up years are autobiographically recorded in An American Childhood and Annie’s writing reveals the influence of both parents. Her father was a lapsed Presbyterian, and her mother’s speech was “endlessly interesting.”2

In the religious realm, three situations in her younger years are noteworthy. The first is her brushes with the Catholic Church. She spoke (through her childhood thought-grid) of “gibberish” which the Catholic

school children “had to believe.”3 Through the filter of her Protestant schoolmates, Dillard got the notion that these faithless children “wrote down [in their workbooks] whatever the Pope said.”4 “Her perception was that the [teaching] nuns seemed to be kept in St. Bede’s [School] as in a prison.”5 Annie’s mother tried to disabuse the child of some of her stereotypical notions by taking her out and having the “black phalanx” of nuns say hello to her daughter.6 “No one knew what Mass might be; my parents shuddered to think.”7 Nevertheless, Dillard described her childhood Presbyterian church as “anti-Catholic.” Oddly enough, the adult Dillard ended up becoming part of the Catholic Church in 1988 at age 43.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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