The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith, and Mystery
by Gregory Wolfe.
Cascade Books, 2016.
Paperback, 224 pages, $25.
“Mystery thus lies at the intersection where reason, intuition, and imagination meet and only the both/and language of paradox seems capable of uniting everything that otherwise seems hopelessly either/or. We are body and soul, bound, and free, fallen and godlike.” In his preface to The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith, andMystery, Gregory Wolfe so describes the “trickiest” of the three terms that makes up the subtitle of IMAGE journal, the publication Wolfe founded in 1989. This diverse collection contains short essays that speak to the intersection of art, faith, and the public square, as well as the topic of Christian humanism and the literary life. Some of the most poignant essays include “Strange Pilgrims,” a reflection on the writer’s life as a paradoxical pilgrimage of solitude and community; “The Culture Wars Revisited,” a reminder that art and religion are ultimately “the twin sources of culture”; and “Looking for a Renaissance,” an assertion that “renaissance” is not merely one era, but a continual effort to renew via synthesis and something that is needed in every age.
A theme that unites these essays is also a thread that runs through all of Wolfe’s work: the notion that in our increasingly ideological age, politics is not enough. As we prepare for an election season that has already left many fatigued and disillusioned, The Operation of Grace reminds Christian humanists and culture-makers that in order to “create tradition afresh,” we should not rely primarily on government, but turn to churches, civil society, and other forms of local community—the “little platoons” where we might find the courage to live in tension and grow more comfortable with mystery in a time of increasing uncertainty.
Ashlee Cowles is a former Russell Kirk Center Wilbur Fellow, a literature teacher at a classical high school, and the author of Beneath Wandering Stars, a novel (Merit Press, August 2016).