The Looking Closer Book of Wisdom

It is a frightening thing to open oneself to this strange and dark side of the divine; it means letting go our sane self-control, that control which gives us the illusion of safety. But safety is only an illusion, and letting it go is part of listening to the silence, and to the Spirit.

– Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

For ourselves and for each other, we desire freedom from suffering; we are, or we should be, aware that the desire to avoid suffering can at times bring about suffering of its own; that in the passion to reduce risks we begin to narrow the scope of our lives. What is frightening for us is precisely the fact that our identities are shaped as time passes by relation and circumstance, that they are not settled in all respects either by individual choice or by genetic determination. So we are always becoming ourselves in relation to what is not ourselves —  other agents, circumstances, sheer accident. The difficulty is discerning where our desire to avoid suffering turns into the desire to avoid the other — the other person, the experience of a different kind of human life, the uncontrollability of circumstances, and so on. At least one of the questions we might be asking about the rhetoric around cloning is to do with the alleged attractiveness of reproducing myself; if what I want is to safeguard the self thatexists at this moment, in these conditions, I am saying in effect that I’d rather not face the challenge of growing, of myself becoming different.

— Rowan Williams, “Making It Strange: Theology in Other(s’) Words,” Sounding the Depths: Theology Through the Arts

Why should the eye be so lazy? Let us exercise the eye until it learns to see startling facts that run across the landscape as plain as a painted fence. Let us be ocular athletes. Let us learn to write essays on a stray cat or a coloured cloud.

– G. K. Chesterton, “Tremendous Trifles”

If you’re doing your job, the reader feels what you felt. You don’t have to tell the reader how to feel. No one likes to be told how to feel about something. And if you doubt that, just go ahead. Try and tell someone how to feel.

– Alexander Chee in an article about lessons learned from Annie Dillard

Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers ‘Please will you do the job for me.’”

– C.S. Lewis
(via Janalyn Voigt)

So often is the virgin sheet of paper more real than what one has to say, and so often one regrets having marred it.

– Harold Acton

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.

– Charles Peguy

First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.

– Cecil Day-Lewis

New organs of perception come into being as a result of necessity.

Therefore, O man, increase your necessity, so that you may increase your perception.”

– Rumi (quoted by Idries Shah, Tales of the Dervishes)

And this needs saying as well: art, whether Christian or not, can’t properly begin with a message and then seek for a vehicle. Its roots lie, rather, in the single story or metaphor or configuration of sound or shape which requires attention and development from the artist. In the process of that development, we find meaning we had not suspected; but if we try to begin with the meanings, they will shrink to the scale of what we already understand: whereas the creative activity opens up what we did not understand and perhaps will not fully understand even when the actual work of creation is done. That is why the artist is never the sole or even the best judge of the work, which rightly and properly escapes into the interpretative field of its public. … I wonder, incidentally, if this is not something we ought to be seeing in the process of the composition of the Gospels: not a story repeated, nor a story invented to make a point, as the more mechanically minded critics might argue, but a set of narratives constantly being retold, and altered in the retelling because of what the very process of telling opens up, shows or makes possible.

– Rowan Williams, “Making It Strange: Theology in Other(s’) Words,” Sounding the Depths: Theology Through the Arts

Cinema audiences have grown more mature and directors can no longer be content with force feeding them a set of preconceived ideas. Rather than asserting a world vision, a film must open a space in which the public can involve themselves in a personal reflection, and evolve from consumers to independent thinkers.

Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi

The truth is like poetry — and most people f***ing hate poetry.

– overheard in a Washington D.C. bar by Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short

The artist’s intentions must decrease while the work of art itself increases. The gift-wrapping is the message. A painting is all surface. Its depth, its mysterious, disruptive depth, is all there on the surface. It is not something to unwrap, walk over, or move to the side.

What are we to make of this? I’ve discovered that a painting is more than the sum total of the artist’s intentions, desires, beliefs, biography. An artist brings all her life experience, intentions, fears, and desires to a painting, yet the end result is an artifact that exists beyond her scope.

Abstract expressionist painter Willem De Kooning said that he knew a painting was finished when he had painted himself out of it.

We too often assume that painting is a form of diary writing, visual journaling, painted confession. And our role as viewer is simply to peer over the artist’s shoulder as he or she expresses, emotes.

But I think that a good painting releases itself from the grip of the artist who brought it into being. It exists in the world because of the artist’s emotions, experiences, and desires, yet it transcends them in order to confront us.

Artists do not paint to express something they already know or feel, but to discover something about the world or themselves, that they do not already know and cannot know by any other means than painting.

– Dan Siedell, “The Poetics of Painting

People ask me all the time, “What does that song mean?” Well, if I could say it in other words than are in the song, I would have written another song, wouldn’t I?

—Elvis Costello (from Live with Steve Nieve)

I don’t know where this is going,
I’m taking a ride on a wing and a prayer.

– Over The Rhine, “Remind Us”

No; we have been as usual asking the wrong question. It does not matter a hoot what the mockingbird on the chimney is singing. The real and proper question is: Why is it beautiful?

– Anne Dillard

A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery.

– John Keats (as quoted in Bright Star)

…often my father would read us things that he loved, without a word of ‘explanation.’ Of these the Ancient Mariner stands out beyond the rest. O happy living things! Why do people murder them by explanations?

-Molly Hughes, A London Child of the 1870s (1934) (via du garbandier)

It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

— Wendell Berry, “Poetry and Marriage,” Standing by Words

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.

– Saint Bernard

I looked at all this in great tranquility. For me, landscape seems to be important for contemplation.

– Thomas Merton

To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.

– Emmanuel Célestin Suhard

Ever since the days of Adam, man has been hiding from God and saying, ‘God is hard to find.’”

– Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult ; and left untried.

– G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World?

…for all this: imagination. To tell our stories, to play them out, to paint pictures, moving and still, but above all to glimpse another way of being. Because as much as we need to describe the world we do live in, we need to dream up the kind of world we want to live in.


If you try to suppress the arts, then I think you’re suppressing the deepest dreams and aspirations of a people.

— President Barack Obama, May 2016

As soon as beauty is sought not from religion and love, but for pleasure, it degrades the seeker.

– Annie Dillard

Calvin says that God takes an aesthetic pleasure in people. There’s no reason to imagine that God would choose to surround himself into infinite time with people whose only distinction is that they fail to transgress. King David, for example, was up to a lot of no good. To think that only faultless people are worthwhile seems like an incredible exclusion of almost everything of deep value in the human saga. Sometimes I can’t believe the narrowness that has been attributed to God in terms of what he would approve and disapprove.

— Marilynne Robinson on writing “bad” characters, The Paris Review No. 198

The Christian writer does not decide what would be good for the world and proceed to deliver it. Like a very doubtful Jacob, he confronts what stands in his path and wonders if he will come out of the struggle at all.

– Flannery O’Connor

Artistic work is always discovery, not illustration. Or, to put it slightly differently, but to connect it with the whole thesis of this essay, artistic work both engages with the real otherness of the environment and itself becomes ‘other’ to the original planning mind as it moves towards its final form. It is not an empty cliché that the artist genuinely doesn’t know until the work is coming to its expression just what it is going to be.

— Rowan Williams, “Making It Strange: Theology in Other(s’) Words,” Sounding the Depths: Theology Through the Arts

A writer controlled by what “has” to figure in a book is actually accepting a perverse, unofficial censorship….

And the irony of it all is that it is unnecessary and in many cases detrimental because it militates against originality. But the worst of it is that so long as a writer is working to satisfy imagined expectations that are extraneous to his art as he would otherwise explore and develop it, he is deprived of the greatest reward, which is the full discovery and engagement of his own mind, his own aesthetic powers and resources. So long as a writer is working below the level of her powers, she is depriving the community of readers of a truly good book. And over time a truly good book can enrich literally millions of lives.

— Marilynne Robinson, “Imagination and Community,” from When I Was a Child I Read Books

Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

…And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

– Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

The cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community. The resurrection is a symbol of God’s triumph over all the forces that seek to block community. The Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history.

– Martin Luther King Jr

Democracy, in its essence and genius, is imaginative love for and identification with a community with which, much of the time and in many ways, one may be in profound disagreement.

When definitions of “us” and “them” begin to contract, there seems to be no limit to how narrow these definitions can become. As they shrink and narrow, they are increasingly inflamed, more dangerous and inhumane. They present themselves as movements toward truer and purer community, but, as I have said, they are the destruction of community. They insist that the imagination must stay within the boundaries they establish for it, that sympathy and identification are only allowable within certain limits. I am convinced that the broadest possible exercise of imagination is the thing most conducive to human health, individual and global.”

– Marilynne Robinson, “Imagination and Community,” in When I Was a Child I Read Books

We speak of a love which is expressed in the Greek word agape. Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. It is the love of God operating in the human heart. Agape is a disinterested love. It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friend and enemy; it is directed toward both.

– Martin Luther King Jr

Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weaknesses of men.
Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God, for it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice, your mediocrity and materialism, your sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.”
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

The fact is that if the writer’s attention is on producing a work of art, a work that is good in itself, he is going to take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to this central meaning and design. He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses. They call attention to themselves and distract from the work as a whole.

-Flannery O’Connor

I think writers with actual intentions generally end up saying things they already thought they knew, and I’m not much interested in reducing my vocation as a poet to something like propagandist. I write poems to find things out, not to communicate some previously ossified conclusion.

– Poet Scott Cairns in an interview with Image

Paterson: “Novelists write out of their deepest selves. Whatever is there in them comes out willy-nilly, and it is not a conscious act on their part. If I were to consciously say, ‘This book shall now be a Christian book,’ then the act would become conscious and not out of myself. It would either be a very peculiar thing to do — like saying, ‘I shall now be humble’ — or it would be simple propaganda…

“Propaganda occurs when a writer is directly trying to persuade, and in that sense, propaganda is not bad. … But persuasion is not story, and when you try to make a story out of persuasion then you’ve done something wrong to the story. You’ve violated the essence of what a story is.”

Interviewer: “Would you then say that you are a Christian writer?”

Paterson: “A Christian first. I have a vocation as a writer; that is my calling. But a Christian first.”

– from an interview with Katherine Paterson in Books and Culture

[T]he last thing I would wish for would be the existence of two literatures, one for Christian consumption and the other for the pagan world. What I believe to be incumbent upon all Christians is the duty of maintaining consciously certain standards and criteria of criticism over and above those applied by the rest of the world; and that by these criteria and standards everything that we read must be tested.

–T.S. Eliot

Our response to life is different if we have been taught only a definition of faith than if we have trembled with Abraham as he held a knife over Isaac.

– Flannery O’Connor

Certainly some revolt against our exaggerated materialism is long overdue. They seem to know a good many of the right things to run away from, but to lack any necessary discipline. They call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It’s true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial. As long as the beat people abandon themselves to all sensation satisfactions, on principle, you can’t take them for anything but false mystics. A good look at St. John of the Cross makes them all look sick.

– Flannery O’Connor

And like all true believers,
I am truly skeptical of all that I have said.

– Over the Rhine, “The World Can Wait”

C.S. Lewis once observed that while many people use art, only a very few receive it. The texts that get called scriptures by various religious traditions are often used by individuals (mostly quoted out of context) to pepper speeches, buttress bad arguments, and, on occasion, to avoid awareness of responsibility for our actions. We read and quote selectively to better justify what we’ve already decided to do. Where is the self-awareness in any of this, the sense that our scriptures can, and should, change the way we think and act? … Are we up for a redeeming word?

We only receive art when we let it call our own lives into question. If the words of Jesus of Nazareth, for instance, strike us as comfortable and perfectly in tune with our own confident common sense, our likes and dislikes, our budgets, and our actions toward strangers and foreigners, then receiving the words of Jesus is probably not what we’re doing. We may quote a verse, put it in a PowerPoint presentation, or even intone it loudly with an emotional, choked-up quiver, but if it doesn’t scandalize or bother us, challenging our already-made-up minds, we aren’t really receiving it.

– David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

The point of an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid.

– G.K. Chesterton

But it sometimes happens that it is not the poet himself, but another, who discovers the wider relevance [of the poet’s work]. If so, he is justified in so interpreting it in the place where he finds it; for the relevance was always potentially there, and once seen and recognized it is actually there forever. This does not, of course, mean that we can read into poets anything that we jolly well like; any significance that contradicts the whole tenor of their work is obviously suspect. But it means that in a very real sense poets do sometimes write more greatly than they know; and it also means that every poet’s work enriches not only those to whom he transmits the tradition, but also all those from whom he himself derived it.

– Dorothy Sayers, “Dante and Charles Williams”, The Whimsical Christian

Nobody, I think, ought to read poetry or look at pictures or statues, who cannot find a great deal more in them than the poet or artist has actually expressed. Their highest merit is their suggestiveness.

– Nathaniel Hawthorne

If they won’t write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves; but it is very laborious.

– C.S. Lewis to J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve always liked fairy tales and myths, magical stories. I think they are somehow closer to the sense of reality one feels today than the equally stylized ‘realistic’ story in which a great deal of selectivity and omission has to occur in order to preserve its ‘realist’ style.

– Stanley Kubrick

It must be admitted that the art of Story as I see it is a very difficult one. … To be stories at all they must be series of events: but it must be understood that this series—the plot, as we call it—is only really a net whereby to catch something else. The real theme may be, and perhaps usually is, something that has no sequence in it, something other than a process and much more like a state or quality.

In life and art both, it seems to me, we are always trying to catch in our net of successive moments something that is not successive. Whether in real life there is any doctor who can teach us how to do it, so that at last either the meshes will become find enough to hold the bird, or we be so changed that we can throw our nets away and follow the bird to its own country, is not a question for this essay. But I think it is sometimes done—or very, very nearly done—in stories. I believe the effort to be well worth making.

– C. S. Lewis, “On Stories”

The task of the artist is to sense more keenly than others the harmony of the world, the beauty and the outrage of what man has done to it, and poignantly, to let people know. Art warms even an icy and depressed heart, opening it to lofty, personal experience. By means of art we are sometimes sent dimly, briefly, revelations unattainable by reason, like that little mirror in the fairy tales. Look into it and you will see not yourself but for a moment, that which passes understanding, a realm to which no man can ride or fly and for which the soul begins to ache.

– Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his 1978 Nobel lecture on literature

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.

– Franz Kafka

The truth must dazzle gradually.

– Emily Dickinson

My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and aware that beauty is summoning him.

– Andrei Tarkovsky

There is one thing that gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.

– G.K. Chesterton

Burning light inside my dreams
I wake up in the dark
The light is outside my door.
Love is everywhere I go.

– Sam Phillips, “Love is Everywhere I Go”

If you try to probe, I’ll lie to you. Seventy-five percent of what I say in interviews is false. I’m like a hen protecting her eggs. I cannot talk. I must protect my work. Introspection is bad for me. I’m a medium, not an orator. Like certain oriental and Christian mystics, I think the ‘self’ is a kind of enemy. My work is what enables me to come out of myself. I like what I do, not what I am … Do you know the best service anyone could render to art? Destroy all biographies. Only art can explain the life of a man — and not the contrary.

– Orson Welles

There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.

– Annie Dillard, “Holy the Firm”

And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily — open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.

– Eugene Peterson

Quite simply, there is no formation without repetition. There is no habituation without being immersed in a practice over and over again… So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship—because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition. We’ve let the devil, so to speak, have all the repetition. And we, as liturgical animals, are only too happy to find our rhythms in such repetition. Unless Christian worship eschews the cult of novelty and embraces the good of faithful repetition, we will constantly be ceding habituation to secular liturgies.”

– James K.A. Smith, Imagining The Kingdom: How Worship Works

The lesson here is simply that courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts —namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work. They’re in a good position to comment on how they’re moved (or challenged or entertained) by the finished product, but have little knowledge or interest in your process. Audience comes later. The only pure communication is between you and your work.

– from “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland

If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

– C.S. Lewis

When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

– C.S. Lewis

I need not belabor the point that to retain our childlike openness does not mean to be childish. Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike. And to be able to be childlike involves memory; we must never forget any part of ourselves. As of this writing, I am sixty-one years old in chronology. But I am not an isolated, chronological numerical statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and… and… and…

If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.

– Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

It takes a long time to become young.

– Pablo Picasso

When we understand the outside of things, we think we have them. Yet the Lord puts his things in subdefined, suggestive shapes, yielding no satisfactory meaning to the mere intellect, but unfolding themselves to the conscience and heart.

– George Macdonald

Even when the psalms are at their most ecstatic, they convey holiness not with abstraction but with images from the world we know: rivers clap their hands, hills dance like yearling sheep. The Bible, in Benedict’s hands, had a concreteness and vigour that I hadn’t experienced since hearing Bible stories read to me as a child.

– Kathleen Norris describing her first encounter with the Benedictine guide for monastic living

As a child I remember believing that if I could ride on the backs of Canada geese they would deliver me to the future because they had arrived from the past. When I would bear my testimony before members of my own congregation, I would say I believed in God not because of what I had learned in church but because of the geese I watched each spring and fall, the fact that they knew their way, that they always returned. My parents said it was a sweet analogy. Not knowing what the word meant, I said, “No, they are not my analogy, they are my truth.”

– Terry Tempest Williams, Leap

To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

– Nelson Mandela

A fifth point regarding nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resistor not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him.

– Martin Luther King Jr

[T]he message of the early Christians, which lies at the heart of the notion of a Christian foundation whether it be a University or a hospital or a family or indeed a country, is that true greatness comes through sacrificial love, that true leadership consists in self-giving service, and that truth itself, the ultimate quest of all University life, is not something we can simply discover, put in our pockets, and use to our own advantage. Truth, as the best researchers in every field know well, is more mysterious than that, because the world, and particularly human beings, are more mysterious and interesting than that. Truth is something that happens when genuinely humble people pause long enough before their subject of study to hear and see what is truly going on, rather than inflicting their own theories on it. Truth then comes to expression when they, or others, purify the dialect of the tribe, and manage to say the new thing, whatever it is, in new and appropriate ways. Universities exist to foster the conditions within which that birthing of truth can take place.

– N.T. Wright, “The Great Story”

… you never enjoy the world aright; till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it. And so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it, that you had rather suffer the flames of Hell than willingly be guilty of their error. There is so much blindness and ingratitude and damned folly in it. The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God.

– Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations

Art’s necessary illusions serve to expose the illusory character of the experienced world…. Artists of necessity refer to the given world, yet to be art their work must imply (refer to) a whole new world of unrealized possibility.

– James William McClendon, Witness: Systematic Theology

It is so easy to sum up other people’s lives, . . . and necessary too, of course, especially our parents’ lives. It is a way of reducing their giant figures to a size we can manage, I suppose, a way of getting even maybe, of getting on, of saying goodbye. The day will come when somebody tries to sum you up the same way and also me. Tell me about old Buechner then. What was he really like? What made him tick? How did his story go? Well, you see, this happened and then that happened, and then that, and that is why he became thus and so, and why when all is said and done it is not so hard to understand why things turned out for him as they finally did. Is there any truth at all in the patterns we think we see, the explanations and insights that fall so readily from our tongues? Who knows. The main thing that leads me to believe that what I’ve said about my mother has at least a kind of partial truth is that I know at first hand that it is true of the mother who lives on in me and will always be part of who I am.

-Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.

– Robert Bresson

Composition is the strongest way of seeing.

– Edward Weston

I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That’s what gives the theater meaning: when it becomes a social act.

– Orson Welles

I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows.

– Ernest Hemingway, in a Paris Review interview by George Plimpton, 1958

I think that a good film is one that has a lasting power, and you start to reconstruct it after you leave the theater. There are a lot of films that seem to be boring, but they are decent films. On the other hand, there are films that nail you to your seat and overwhelm you to the point that you forget everything, but you feel cheated later. These are the films that take you hostage. I absolutely don’t like the films in which the filmmakers take their viewers hostage and provoke them. I prefer the films that put their audience to sleep in the theater. I think those films are kind enough to offer you a nice nap and not leave you disturbed when you leave the theater. Some films have made me doze off in the theater, but the same films have made me stay up at night, wake up thinking about them in the morning, and keep on thinking about them for weeks. Those are the kind of films I like.

– Abbas Kiarostami

An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only.

– C.S. Lewis

The public have always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much, and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own stupidity.

– Oscar Wilde

…the writer who emphasizes spiritual values is very likely to take the darkest view of all of what he sees in this country today. For him the fact that we are the most powerful and the wealthiest nation in the world doesn’t mean a thing in any positive sense. The sharper the light of faith, the more glaring are apt to be the distortions the writer sees in the life of those around him.

– Flannery O’Connor, quoted in an editor’s footnote to her essay “The Fiction Writer & His Country”

If you write for God, you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men, you may make some money, and you may give someone a little joy, and you may make a noise in the world — for a little while. If you write only for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written, and after ten minutes, you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.

– Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.

– Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.

-C.S. Lewis

…if revelation is regarded simply as a system of truths about God and an explanation of how the universe came into existence, what will eventually happen to it, what is the purpose of Christian life, what are its moral norms, what will be the rewards of the virtuous, and so on, then Christianity is in effect reduced to a world view, at times a religious philosophy and little more, sustained by a more or less elaborate cult, by a moral discipline and a strict code of law. ‘Experience’ of the inner meaning of Christian revelation will necessarily be distorted and diminished in such a theological setting. What will such experience be? Not so much a living theological experience of the presence of God in the world and in mankind through the mystery of Christ, but rather a sense of security in one’s own correctness: a feeling of confidence that one has been saved, a confidence which is based on the reflex awareness that one holds the correct view of the creation and purpose of the world and that one’s behavior is of a kind to be rewarded in the next life. Or, perhaps, since few can attain this level of self-assurance, then the Christian experience becomes one of anxious hope — a struggle with occasional doubt of the “right answers”, a painful and constant effort to meet the severe demands of morality and law, and a somewhat desperate recourse to the sacraments which are there to help the weak who must constantly fall and rise again. This of course is a sadly deficient account of true Christian experience, based on a distortion of the true import of Christian revelation.

– Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite (This quote was included in an e-mail that recording artist Sam Phillips sent me in answer to an inquiry about her own faith.)

In Christianity, God is not a static thing — not even a person — but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.

– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better. This tender relationship can change in a twinkling. If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you.

– Annie Dillard, from The Writing Life

The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.

– Emily Dickinson

I think the poet who didn’t feel the pressure at a politically difficult time would be either stupid or insensitive.


Debate doesn’t really change things. It gets you bogged in deeper. If you can address or reopen the subject with something new, something from a different angle, then there is some hope. … People are suddenly gazing at something else and pausing for a moment. And for the duration of that gaze and pause, they are like reflectors of the totality of their own knowledge and/or ignorance. That’s something poetry can do for you, it can entrance you for a moment above the pool of your own consciousness and your own possibilities.

– Seamus Heaney in an interview in The Paris Review

Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see.

– Paul Klee

Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself.

– Henry Miller

No, Frodo ‘failed’. It is possible that once the ring was destroyed he had little recollection of the last scene. But one must face the fact: the power of Evil in the world is not finally resistible by incarnate creatures, however ‘good’; and the Writer of the Story is not one of us.

— J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter to Miss J. Burn – July 26, 1956

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

– Psalm 80:3

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