Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water — peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweet as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is foreshadowing — the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.
– from the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, quoted by Christian Wiman in his book My Bright Abyss. Wiman comments:
This seemed (and seems) to me, besides being prose of consummate clarity and beauty, to so perfectly articulate not only the sense of absence that for years I felt permeating every spiritual aspect of my life, but also, and more important, to bestow upon it an energy and agency, a prayerful but indefinable promise: “the world will be made whole.”
I just finished reading Housekeeping, and while I at first resisted the book for the simple reason of its deep sadness, the “consummate clarity and beauty” brought me in. I came to like it nearly as much as Robinson’s Gilead, one of my very favorite novels.
I heard about Wiman’s book in The New Yorker earlier this year, and it is on my fall reading list, along with finishing Robinson’s When I was a Child I Read Books, a collection of non-fiction pieces with insights on matters cultural, political and religious couched in Robinson’s clear, subtle, and luminous prose.