01 July 2021, The Tablet

A deep awakening – Marilynne Robinson and Erik Varden in conversation

A deep awakening – Marilynne Robinson and Erik Varden in conversation

Photos: CNS, Simon Caldwell; Alamy/Reuters, Dylan Martinez


When writer Marilynne Robinson and Cistercian monk and bishop Erik Varden discussed how the longing for God can still touch people in a secular age, our literary editor was taking notes

Her novels are among the great works of American literature; his The Shattering of Loneliness was one of the most acclaimed books of spirituality of recent years. Both have a gift of making ordinary things numinous, of pointing “towards the light that no darkness can overcome”. Their conversation – conducted between Marilynne Robinson’s sitting room in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Erik Varden’s study in Trondheim, in Norway – was one of the highlights of the Tablet Spring Festival last month.

Fr Erik began by admitting that, while greatly looking forward to the conversation, he had also been dreading it a bit: having lived with Robinson’s “Gilead” novels for the best part of 15 years, “having wept with them and laughed with them”, he hesitated to talk about them because they had come to stand for something so intimate. The series begins with Gilead (2004), and continues with three further novels – Home (2008), Lila (2014) and Jack (2020). Each focuses on the same group of characters, each one of them indelible in the memory; all are members of the households of two Presbyterian ministers, Robert Boughton and John Ames, who grew up in the small Midwestern town of Gilead in the early twentieth century.

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