Subscribe to Christianity Today
A Pilgrim's Progress Part 2
(continued from previous article)
More explicitly than anywhere previously in her writings, Dillard identifies herself as a Christian and a churchgoer ("often I am the only person under sixty, and feel as though I am on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia"). Her most luminous passages deal with the sacraments of baptism and Communion.
As always with Dillard's writing, single, vivid images endure long after the act of reading, somewhat like the afterimages that can burn themselves into the retina and persist even when eyes are closed. She watches a female golden moth attracted to a candle, an old trope given new life by her pen. The moth's wings "ignited like tissue paper," her antennae crackled, her legs disappeared. "And then this moth-essence, this spectacular skeleton, began to act as a wick. . . . She burned for two hours without changing, without bending or leaning-only glowing within . . . like a hollow saint."
We meet this striking image of redemptive pain again, as the plane falls like a moth from the sky and seven-year-old Julie Norwich's face burns off. And again, toward the end, as Dillard carries the bottle of Communion wine, "Christ with a cork," in her backpack. "Walking faster and faster, weightless, I feel the wine. It sheds light in slats through my rib cage, and fills the buttressed vaults of my ribs with light pooled and buoyant. I am moth; I am light." Since by its very nature fire gives off light as it burns, the death of a golden moth illuminates; so may the pain of a burned child (the name Julie Norwich is taken from the medieval saint Julian of Norwich); so may the pain of a writer transporting a bottle of wine in defiant faith against the silence of God. Like lightning, the flame of God transfigures even as it immolates.
Ten books now bear Annie Dillard's name. Besides the four already mentioned, these include two books of poetry, a book of narrative essays, an attempt at literary criticism (Living by Fiction, which Dillard now dismisses as ...