Faculty & Staff Reading Ideas: Benson Edition

By Christopher Benson

I typically read according to my vocational roles. As a literature teacher, I am reading the following:

  • Walker Percy, The Second Coming. Walker Percy, like Flannery O’Connor, was a bit of an anomaly in 20th-century American literature: Southern and Catholic, not to mention Kierkegaardian in his attention to the emergencies of life. Having read The Moviegoer and The Last Gentlemen (a prequel), The Second Coming is my favorite novel by Percy so far. I read the book with a graduate of CSD (Joey Jekel) and blogged about it.      
  • Albert Camus, The Plague. No literary work has earned more attention since the outbreak of COVID-19, so I am reading this book and blogging about it with a graduate of CSD (Matthew Jordan) to prepare for teaching the novel in 12th grade Modern European Literature. 
  • Helen Vendler, Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries. Helen Vendler has been called “perhaps the most skilled and accomplished close reader of lyric poetry of her generation.” Some of Dickinson’s poems are “resolutely cryptic,” but with Vender’s acuity, they break open. 
  • Linda Freedman, Emily Dickinson and the Religious Imagination. Dickinson is one of the most important religious thinkers and artists of the 19th century. Linda Freedman’s literary criticism situates Dickinson’s poetry within its historical context and traces its biblical and theological currents. 
  • Roger Lundin, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief. To round out my study of Dickinson, I am reading two biographies. Roger Lundin was a professor of English at my alma mater, Wheaton College. His acclaimed biography concerns the spiritual struggle at the center of the poet’s life and craft. 

As a follower of Christ, I am reading the following: 

  • Charles Bridges, Proverbs. During the 2019-20 school year, CSD focused on the theme of wisdom in our chapel messages. To aid a slow reading of the Book of Proverbs, I picked up this commentary by a 19th century Anglican priest and leader of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England.
  • Soren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity. No Christian thinker has influenced my Christ-life more than this 19th century Danish philosopher. Considered his most important book, Kierkegaard offers a personal summation of what it means “to be a Christian – in Christendom,” which had removed the offense of the Gospel for “an amiable, sentimental paganism.” Meditating on three scriptures – “Come hither, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), “Blessed is he whosoever is not offended in me” (Matthew 11:6), and “From on high He will draw all unto himself” (John 12.32) – he helps me envision what it means to become “contemporary with Christ.” 
  • Gerald R. McDermott (editor), The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism. As a Christian in the Anglican tradition, I am keenly aware of our Communion’s blessings and burdens, eager for a future that is faithful to its orthodox past. I will review this title for Christianity Today. 
  • Curriculum on Saint Benedict: Although I do not expect that I will start this curriculum until late summer, I plan to read The Rule of Saint Benedict and two secondary sources: The Way of St. Benedict by Rowan Williams and Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants by Dennis Okholm. My purpose is to understand the enduring appeal and relevance of St. Benedict’s sixth-century Rule, especially because I would like to go on a sabbatical to the Community of Resurrection, an Anglican monastery of the Benedictine order in northern England. I learned that German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer visited CR in 1935. His experience inspired him to recite parts of Psalm 119 in the daily prayer of the seminary for the Confessing Church and to write his book on Christian fellowship, Life Together.