A few weeks ago while visiting my local library I decided to wander about the shelves where they house the essay collections. As I inspected the books around me for whatever reason one book caught my eye. Picking it up, I could see it was older, a bit dog-eared and therefore presumably well-borrowed. Encouraged by all of this, I proceeded to read the book’s inside jacket. After seeing that this particular essay collection covered a wide spectrum of religious and scientific matters I quickly opted to borrow it. Fortunately for me, I made the right decision. While Annie Dillard’s 1999 book For the Time Being might be hard to classify, I found it to be a well-written, expansive and comfortable meditation on the ” big questions” of life regarding God, evil, cosmic justice and our countless attempts to influence them all.
While most essay collections consist of stand alone chapters with each essay devoted to a solitary subject, Dillard’s book is different. Incorporating a diverse range of subject matter relating to religion, science and personal travelogue, Dillard’s For the Time Being is a literary mosaic in search of existential meaning. Her book discusses birth defects, the Talmud, the Kabbalah, the French theologian and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, the Terracotta Warriors of Xian, cloud formations and the serial killer Ted Bundy.
And that’s just the first chapter.
By drawing from her deep well of scientific and religious knowledge, Dillard does a pretty good job taking the reader along on her personal and somewhat meditative quest for higher meaning. Fortunately, I never found her approach “new age-y” or dogmatic. The writing is good and even if she doesn’t reach any earth-shaking conclusions, the journey she’s led us on was worth our time and effort. Sometimes in life it’s not about finding the answers. Sometimes it’s about what you experienced while trying to find them.