The Wounded Angel

Fiction and the Religious Imagination

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Paul Lakeland
  • Collegeville, MN: 
    Liturgical Press
    , March
     242 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Author Paul Lakeland seems to have made a deliberate choice in his writing of The Wounded Angel: Fiction and the Religious Imagination. Although clearly capable of captivating readers from a variety of backgrounds, Lakeland decided to target his book to scholars. His work reads like an academic treatise, with brief inserts of delightful imagination and humor. His message? The church today is sorely lacking in religious imagination and its use in exploring the beyond. Instead of eschewing fiction for heavy theological tomes, the church should embrace fiction as a way to help believers and atheists alike explore the human condition, which inevitably leads to matters of faith and the divine. Lakeland pulls out many examples of “serious fiction,” in which authors have used their books to point to something more than the story itself, giving readers a glimpse of a reality just beyond their reach. Lakeland also laments modern fiction, which according to him so often limits itself to simply describing instead of probing bigger questions about humanity. Serious fiction, according to Lakeland, gives readers something solid to slowly digest and thereby broaden their horizons. The array of examples used by Lakeland is impressive: clearly he practices what he preaches. He painstakingly dissects numerous novels to prove his point about “serious fiction,” using a variety of plots and characters, from the pious to the dark and twisted, to search for a broader understanding of topics like grace, love, and redemption, even if the authors are unaware of it.

Lakeland is making the very valuable and too-often overlooked point that great literature is an excellent tool for exploring the human condition and matters of faith. Great literature can help its readers glimpse into the divine—however briefly—almost but not quite reaching transcendence and pondering truths taught in scripture. Imagination (not to be mistaken for fancy), when properly used, is a remarkable way to help readers grasp matters that philosophers and theologians spend lifetimes arguing about. The book’s namesake—the painting “The Wounded Angel,” by Hugo Simberg—is used as such an example of imagination and the questions of faith and humanity it sparks among viewers. Imagination helps even the most reluctant to contemplate the divine. It is a fantastic and valuable method that is quickly falling into disuse. As discussed by Lakeland, many are too often seduced by art that merely entertains instead of work that makes one uncomfortable and forces inner reflection.

Lakeland does not discuss the implications of his argument, but they are interesting to contemplate. What if the church and theologians embraced works of fiction and imagination? What if seminaries used “serious fiction” along with works of great theologians to teach their students about God’s love and grace? What if more pastors embraced fiction as a way to teach their congregants about scriptural truths? What if authors today shunned mere entertainment and embraced exploring the human condition? If nothing else, Lakeland’s book is a wake up call to pursue works beyond the superficial. This is a valuable lesson for academics and the general public alike.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mary Margaret Pierson is a graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
October 23, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Paul Lakeland is the Aloysius P. Kelley, SJ, Professor of Catholic Studies and founding director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, a Jesuit institution in Connecticut.




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