Academic journal article
By Fahey, Michael A.
Theological Studies , Vol. 64, No. 1
The unusual sub-freezing temperatures that gripped much of the U.S.A. in the first months of this year brought hardship and suffering to financially challenged persons, especially the elderly who are locked in with a fixed income. Why is it that in a country with so much affluence (despite the downturn of the stock market) the poor and elderly are sometimes faced with choosing between paying for heating fuel or purchasing food and medication? At the same time that billions or trillions of dollars are being allocated for a "preventive war," funding for nutrition, health care, and education are being cut back.
Those of us more fortunate have been able to ignore the rigors of the cold outside, by curling up in a comfortable chair in a heated room with a work of fiction in hours saved from the demands of teaching and researching theology. In the last several months, there has been no shortage of engrossing stories, some of them nominated for awards such as the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. During the break between semesters, I was able to enjoy the winner of the first place, Yann Martel's delightful novel Life of Pi about a young boy marooned on a life raft in the Pacific with a Bengali tiger. Several other books from the top five Booker list helped me prescind from the whistling winds and swirling snow outdoors. Among them were William Trevot's The Story of Lucy Gault and Carol Shields's Unless. From the U.S. literary scene, I discovered Alice Sebold's mesmerizing novel, The Lovely Bones, the much acclaimed story narrated by a murdered 14-year-old girl from her new home in heaven. Apart from being rewarded in the realms of imagination, I felt invited to expand my theological search for understanding the human situation. Each of these novels offers insights into what theology tries to articulate about grace, sin and repentance, the afterlife, ecology, and multifarious other themes. Although theologians don't often admit it, the fact is that our reflections and meditations on God and humans remain sterile and lifeless without the stimulus of characters we discover, both in real life and especially in fiction or biography. Curricula in theology departments may include an occasional optional course devoted to "Theology and Literature" but continued involvement between theological reflection and literary narratives, however much needed, is rare.
Other artistic mediums serve similar purposes. For those willing to venture outdoors and fortunate to purchase tickets, there is the excitement of plays and films, trips to museums, tours of architectural landmarks. For theologians who experience a revival of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya or a touring production of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, it is hard to imagine that such dramatic embodiments of personal and political challenges will not impact one's theological anthropology. …