Appreciating Marilyn Robinson

Not dead – just new to me!

A friend of Lori’s got us tickets to the Library of Congress’ tribute to Marilynne Robinson last spring. (Robinson had won the library’s 2016 Prize for American fiction.) The panelists honoring her were a thoughtful and incredibly brainy group: Alan Lightman (whose Einstein’s Dreams I’d enjoyed so much years ago), Pulitzer winner Geraldine Brooks and Pulitzer winner Paul Harding. Alice McDermott was in the house too. But Robinson stole the show, giving no inch on any debate, tackling the metaphysical/spiritual like she had been thinking of its issues all day. Which she probably had been.

It was fun to be there, both for the conversation and, as it always is, for a few hours in the Library’s main home, beautiful and provocative in its grandeur.

The reason the event comes to mind is Robinson’s long-read in a recent edition of Commonweal, a piece called “Wonder Never Cease,” making a strenuous case for belief in both science and God. Many parts of the essay are above my head (or take a bit more time than I have available to climb steep mental ladders), but her closing argument is clear and vibrant – fascinating no matter your beliefs.
The modern world, insofar as it is proposed to humankind as its habitation, is too small, too dull, too meager for us. After all, we are very remarkable. We alone among the creatures have learned a bit of the grammar of the universe. Einstein was known to mention God from time to time, which need not imply theism in any traditional form, only the sense of a universe more intrinsically orderly, capacious, and finally unknowable, than theory and formula could capture. For him the Lord seems to have been another cosmological constant, an undemonstrated given necessary to allowing the reality he wished to describe its full character. We have in ourselves grounds for supposing that Being is vaster, more luminous, more consequential than we have allowed ourselves to imagine for many generations.

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