The Operation of Grace
Further Essays on Art, Faith, and Mystery
The Operation of Grace collects a decade’s worth of essays by Gregory Wolfe taken from the pages of Image, the literary journal he founded more than a quarter century ago.
Wolfe’s explorations are located in the sometimes fraught, always fruitful intersection of art and faith—with a profound openness to divine mystery. “Mystery lies in the borderland between the knowable and the unknowable,” Wolfe writes. Whether his subject is ancient cave painting, the writing of Samuel Johnson, Andrei Tarkovsky’s filmography, or childhood asthma, he strides toward this “borderland” and shows us it is teeming with life.
These essays cover a wide range of topics and engage the work of many artists and writers, from C.S. Lewis to Ingmar Bergman to Christopher Hitchens. Wolfe is not shy about tackling Big Issues, whether that's the culture wars of the twentieth century, the relationship between East and West, or society’s current obsession with apocalypse. In one essay, he takes on the familiar adage, “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” flipping it the other way around. In another, he asks whether art and social justice can truly serve each other or if one always denigrates the other.
Some of these essays also examine his personal life, that of a life-long writer and editor: what does it mean to have and serve a calling? For an artist, where is the line between noble endeavor and obsessive-compulsive disorder?
The Operation of Grace represents a decade of Wolfe’s gentle insistence that art and religion offer illuminating analogies to one another: art deepens faith through the empathetic reach of the imagination and faith anchors art in a vision beyond the artist's ego. This volume demonstrates once again why novelist Ron Hansen has spoken of Wolfe as “one of the most incisive and persuasive voices of our generation.”
Gregory Wolfe is editor of Image. He serves as Writer in Residence and Director of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Seattle Pacific University. His literary imprint, Slant Books, is published by Wipf and Stock. Wolfe’s books include Beauty Will Save the World, Intruding Upon the Timeless, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography, and Sacred Passion: The Art of William Schickel. He has served as a judge for the National Book Awards.
Praise for The Operation of Grace
“These occasional pieces in fact add up to a marvelous whole—an erudite, provocative, whole, at time winsome and at times bracing. They are, in short, a gift.”
—Lauren Winner, author of Girl Meets God
“Greg Wolfe has done something remarkable for both the Christian community and the fractured, fractious culture we inhabit in the North Atlantic world. These essays amply show how a theologically informed perspective can generate a serious, adult, joyful inhabiting of creation.”
—Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury
“Each of these essays is an invocation—an act of summoning, a preparation for transfigurations yet to come.”
—Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
“It’s tempting to read Greg Wolfe as a voice speaking to us from an earlier age, when faith and culture were not antagonists, but two sides to the same coin. This would be a mistake: the humane, intelligent essays in The Operation of Grace exist to remind us that that time isn’t past at all.”
—Christopher Beha, author of What Happened to Sophie Wilder
“This new collection of essays—wise, acute, and compelling—is a bold and necessary dispatch from an essential writer.”
—Robert Clark, author of Mr. White’s Confession
“Gregory Wolfe is to the burgeoning art and faith movement what Camille Pissarro was to the Impressionist movement—a central pillar, a wise teacher, an irreplaceable presence.”
—Makoto Fujimura, artist, director, Brehm Center