“A Little Willingness to See”: Sacramental Vision in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and Gilead

in Religion and the Arts
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The “sacramental imagination” is closely associated with writers from the Roman Catholic tradition. However, Marilynne Robinson, drawing on the creational and sacramental theology of John Calvin, has successfully developed a distinctly American Protestant sacramental vision in and through her novels Housekeeping and Gilead. In this article, I examine Robinson’s appropriation of Calvin to show how he has shaped her sacramental view of the world. I then look at the two novels in succession to show how this vision manifests itself in her fiction. Robinson sees creation itself as bearing a sacramental character that is particularly evident in the elements of water, bread, and wine. When these elements are concentrated in sacramental actions and viewed through the corrective lens of Scripture, they reveal this intention with an even greater clarity. Through her depictions of the sacred nature of ordinary people and places, Robinson articulates a vision that invites the reader to see the divine in the common.

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