Friday, May 12, 2017

Marilynne Robinson's "Psalm 8" is a thoughtful, nourishing piece

For Deal Me In, I recently read "Psalm 8" by Marilynne Robinson.

So I have spent my life watching, not to see beyond the world, merely to see, great mystery, what is plainly before my eyes. I think the concept of transcendence is based on a misreading of creation. With all due respect to heaven, the scene of the miracle is here, among us.

I was drawn to this essay because I've read the eighth psalm; I come to it from Jewish faith, and Robinson from a Christian background. I wanted to see what she had to say on it. The essay isn't entirely about the psalm, but it explores some of its themes. At one point, the psalm asks what man is exactly, to have the notice or remembrance of God. What is man to merit such attention?

("A question is more spacious than a statement," Robinson writes, "far better suited to expressing wonder.")

One reason I like this essay is that it's an intelligent, perceptive exploration of religious text and experience. I've come across writings on religion that flatten the world and make the soul shrink. This essay is full of an appreciation of mystery.

Also, there's a love of humanity in it. It's written without sentimentality but with a recognition of people's special dignity. And there's humility in it too, not exaggerated in any way, just a straightforward kind in which the mind is alive with questions that present no easy answers.

In some of her other writings, like her essay, "Darwinism," Robinson speaks out against the way people use science to try to diminish humanity; she isn't "anti-science," but writes of how science can become another ideological weapon. So can religion, but in reading Robinson's writing, religion is nothing so simple as that. And that's one reason I appreciate what I've read so far of her work. She isn't an ideologue; she doesn't want to make the world uglier by pretending everything is knowable.

4 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

I love the quotation that you posted.

How science and religion relate to life, ideology, philosophy, etc are topics that fascinate me. What sounds like humanism and humility in her writings also sounds very appealing. Thus I think that I would get a lot of Robinson's writings.

HKatz said...

I think you'd enjoy her work and thinking about the points she raises. (The essay collection I've been reading through is called The Death of Adam.)

Barbara Fisher said...


I’ve just been reading more about Marilynne Robinson, and this quote stood out.

Robinson is one of the great thinkers of our time. That's probably why so many have never heard of her.

There is so much truth in that. If her name were J. K. Rowling, we would know everything about her, right down to her shoe size.

HKatz said...

I agree that more people should know about her, Barbara - some of the essays I've come across address critical problems in our culture.