Annie Dillard: The Writer Closest to God?

Today is Annie Dillard’s birthday. Should be a national holiday. She’s far and away the best “spiritual” writer I’ve run into. Her work makes “awesome” sound like a diminutive.

Here’s what’s said to be a photo of her as a young woman; look like a spiritual master? More like trouble. (The same thing?)

Dillard--young

More about her at Wikipedia

I found her accidentally. Nature writing is not my thing. But I read “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” in 1994, because it was assigned for a book group.

Knocked me out. Re-read it about ten years later.

Knocked me out again. Read a few other of her books. The way Dillard effortlessly and heedlessly showed up most “spiritual” writing for the sentimental slop it is, was breathtaking.

It was nothing personal. More like Mozart to Salieri; if the others ever notice, they’ll rend their clothes, put ashes in their hair, toss their laptops out the window, and go take up golf.

Here’s an authentic recent photo of her:

Dillard now

Her website says she divides her time between Hillsborough NC and Wythe County Virginia.

It also says her religion is “none.” But she’s taken an interesting and winding path to that destination; if it is a destination.

Figures. NC is God’s Other Country, and Wythe County is not far from Tinker Creek, and the site where I saw these very scenes not eight days ago:

Mustard hills

Trees with spring colors

Redbud in trees

Here are a few quotes, from what could be pages. And if you want more, three pages worth are here.

From “THIS IS THE LIFE”:

<< What would you do differently, you up on your beanstalk looking at scenes of all peoples at all times in all places? When you climb down, would you dance any less to the music you love, knowing that music to be as provisional as a bug? Somebody has to make jugs and shoes, to turn the soil, fish. If you descend the long rope-ladders back to your people and time in the fabric, if you tell them what you have seen, and even if someone cares to listen, then what? Everyone knows times and cultures are plural. If you come back a shrugging relativist or tongue-tied absolutist, then what? If you spend hours a day looking around, high astraddle the warp or woof of your people's wall, then what new wisdom can you take to your grave for worms to untangle? Well, maybe you will not go into advertising. >>

Eskimo: “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to Hell?”
Priest: “Not if you did not know.”
Eskimo: “Then why did you tell me?”

<< On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return." (Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982) >>

• Why are we watching the news, reading the news keeping up with the news? Only to enforce our fancy — possibly a necessary lie — that these are crucial times, and we are in on them.

I have never read any theologian who claims God is particularly interested in religion, anyway.

“The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

“…..a few of the principles by which I live: A good gag is worth any amount of time, money and effort; never draw to fill an inside straight; always keep score in games, never in love; never say ‘Muskrat Ramble’; always keep them guessing; never listen to the same conversation twice; and (this is the hard part) listen to no one.”

“There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end…… We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus. ”

“Push it. examine all things intensely and relentlessly.”

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