Michael Paul Gallagher
The Human Poetry of Faith
DLT, London, 2001, £8.95
(price at publication
There are three lines in Rilke’s long poem Of the Monastic Life which I wonder if Michael Paul Gallagher had somewhere in the back of his mind when he wrote this book. Rilke is talking to God:
You are not yet cold, nor is time too spent
for us, into your deepening depths to be diving
where Life is so silently present.
Dive Deeper is a call to give the imagination, your imagination and mine, a chance to bring things to the surface. Gallagher is a teacher at the Gregorian University in Rome and previously he taught literature at University College Dublin, and he has come to believe that for many, the language of Christianity has gone stale. We need to dive deeper to get beneath the surface of the tired language, and connect with ideas and feelings which are a common treasure for a far wider group of people. These treasures, are to be discovered in what Gallagher calls, a ‘pre-religious’ zone.
Literature is Gallagher’s world, and he has a great facility for handling it in interesting and surprising ways. The heart of this book is a series of six fictional dialogues, in which an issue is discussed. For example, Jane Austen and D.H. Lawrence discuss friendship; Shakespeare and Oscar Romero discuss suffering; and, back to Rilke, Rilke the poet, and Karl Rahner the theologian, discuss – rather more obtusely – the starting point for reality. Do we begin with the ‘eternal’ with Rilke, or do we begin with the mess on the study floor with Karl Rahner? Dialogue is an ancient form of getting at the truth, and I found it a really interesting and lively book. The margins are spattered with my appreciative pencil marks.
I fear, though, that this book might disappoint more people than it encourages. There is not quite enough scholarship for the Rilke ‘buff’, and probably a bit too much for those floundering for want of a few basic Christian truths. Which is a pity, because I can imagine Gallagher is a first-rate teacher with those groups who are lucky enough to share with him his fertile and generous mind.
David Scott, Companion
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