First I should mention that this is from a great anthology of essays and excerpts on the subject of literature and Christianity called "Christian Imagination". It's edited by Leland Ryken and includes writings by Denise Levertov, CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Luci Shaw, George Macdonald, Tolkien, Chesterton, TS Eliot, Peter J. Leithart, Chad Walsh and my latest discovery, Janine Langan of the University of Toronto, among others. I picked it up on sale at Regent College and I have spent many happy hours in it so far. It's a nice source of Good Thoughts on the relationship between art and faith, or whatever you want to call that mystery --usually whenever I hear about it my eyes start to roll upward from the cliche of it all, but nearly everything in this book is fresh and real. Not least, of course, St. Flannery. So, fighting the temptation to write out the entire essay, here's a delicious bit of Novelist and Believer:
At best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily. The fiction which celebrates this last state will be the least likely to transcend its limitations, for when the religious need is banished successfully, it usually atrophies, even in the novelist. A kind of reverse evolution takes place, and the whole range of feeling is dulled.
The searchers are another matter. Paschal wrote in his notebook, "If I had not known you, I would not have found you." These unbelieving searchers have their effect even upon those of us who do believe. We begin to examine our own religious notions, to sound them for genuineness, to purify them in the heat of our unbelieving neighbour's anguish. What Christian novelist could compare his concern to Camus'? We have to look in much of the fiction of our time for a kind of sub-religion which expresses its ultimate concern in images that have not broken through to show any recognition of a God who has revealed himself. As great as much of this fiction is, as much as it reveals a wholehearted effort to find the only true ultimate concern, as much as it in many cases represents religious values of a high order, I do not believe that it can adequately represent in fiction the central religious experience. That, after all, concerns a relationship with a supreme being recognized through faith. It is the experience of an encounter, of a kind of knowledge which affects the believer's every action. It is Paschal's experience after his conversion and not before.