I do not rightly know whether this post belongs in Nigelvalentine or Pilcrow, where I have a ‘From the Bookshelf’ category, but it pertains to the balance between hardship and Christ (in literature, at least).

In my reading, throughout my days, I have noticed a distinct presence of the mention of Jesus in literature as recent as the early part of the 20th Century.  This presence is in direct contrast to its absence in contemporary literature and I have noticed it on several levels.  The first, obviously, is from the level of my faith, where I need to acknowledge the Father and the Son in all my interactions and in every place.  The next is from the level of literature, seeing the presence of the reference in context, how it fits into the story or piece of writing, and only afterward questioning why it is there.  That is the third level. But my comment actually runs askew from all of these.

In reading Chaucer’s Retraction, the final lines of The Canterbury Tales, this line appears, “Now preye I to hem alle that herkne this litel tretis or rede, that if ther be any thing in it that lyketh hem, that ther-of they thanken oure lord Jesu Crist, of whom procedeth al with and al goodnesse.”  In other words, ‘If you, the reader, find something of interest in this book or these tales, I thank Jesus Christ.’

Why would he write this?  And why would he even mention Christ?  My guess is that it was not uncommon to him, nor to his contemporaries, readers, family or colleagues, to keep Christ close, and that would include in writing.  My hunch is that in these days, the Middle Ages, that is, people were much more aware of Christianity, of Christ’s sacrifice, of the Bible.  Yes, life was probably more difficult in some ways in the 1300s than it is now, but I believe that those difficulties were countered by a greater stockpile–collective stockpile, that is, a communal one–of faith, hope, and perseverance.  Love certainly played its role, too.

But in contrast, and I don’t mean to play the role of finger-pointing Christian here, our lives in the 21st Century are quite easy, our water comes from pipes, our waste disappears into the ground, and we can google just about anything.  At least, that is the way of First World nations.  But our literature, our art, and all the thought that is collected in them and from them are less beautiful, less stricken with the knowledge of one’s limitations, and perhaps even less appealing to the world in general.  How much of what is cranked out today will be found in coffers, libraries, and on gallery walls?  Christ survives, and when His life is brought into our books and our images and our minds, those things survive, too.

As I say, I do not know what kind of theorizing this really is, but I have noticed it, this absence of Christ’s presence in our daily reading, and I am sorry for the gap it has produced.

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