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John Updike and the art of faith

John Updike and the art of faith

Alex Beam, writing in the Boston Globe, writes with both admiration and wonder at the faith of John Updike. Or more accurately, about Updike’s decision not to make “the leap of unfaith.”

…did Updike, a great questioner and seeker, look forward to “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” to cite those beautiful words from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer?

He of all people? The author of “A Month of Sundays,” a novel about a defrocked minister, which one reader thought celebrated the redemptive power of adultery and golf? The man who wrote “In the Beauty of the Lilies,” in which the Rev. Clarence Wilmot confesses to his wife: “My faith, my dear, seems to have fled. . . . The universe is a hundred per cent matter and poor old humankind is on its own and always has been.”

Why do I care? Because faith is hard to come by. Lots of people, including me, attend church and casually recite our confidence in salvation and the afterlife. But — really? My baseline hope for the hereafter is to realize a portion of the Mormons’ promise — to spend eternity with my family. But, frankly, I’m not very confident. I wish I were.

For Updike, doubt apparently never eliminated hope.

Updike’s widow Martha vividly remembers her husband’s rapid decline and death, and his commitment to the Episcopal religion, into which he was confirmed in the early 1980s. In hospice care, “he always had the Book of Common Prayer on our bed — he knew it very well.”

As for John’s world view, “he saw the world as it was,” Martha recalls. “In everything he wrote, there was a ‘Yes but. . . .’ ” As for eternal life, “None of us can know that for sure,” she said, “nor do we have complete knowledge that there is no afterlife. John always believed that there was evidence of God’s work in the world.”



Author John Updike at home in Beverly, Massachusetts Photo credit: Boston Globe/JoanneA

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JC Fisher

Can we get a link to the Boston Globe article? Thanks—

[added now. Thanks JC. Editor]

Bennett Brockman

Readers who appreciate Updike’s honest faith in its perpetual struggle may find his poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” especially appealing.

Leslie Marshall

One of my all time favorite writers….read all his books and all his essays. I’m blessed to find out that he loved his Prayer Book. I’m sure it gave him peace. Oddly, one of my favorite pieces of his was ‘At War with My Skin’, The New Yorker, Sept 2, 1985. It was about his struggle with psoriasis. His honesty was at once searing & transcendent.

Jeffrey Cox

I believed he was from Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Rod Gillis

Terrific article. Thanks so much.

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