An Ignatian Approach to Difficult Art 


You’re studying Russian literature? Isn’t that depressing?” 

This was the most common question I heard as I was working on my Ph.D. I’m not sure anyone believed me when I told them, “No, definitely not! I actually find it really hopeful and uplifting.” 

I can see how people would draw that grim conclusion; after all, the most famous of Russian novels aren’t exactly a springtime stroll through a pleasant garden. They usher us into an affair that ends in tragedy (“Anna Karenina”), the moral and psychological crisis of a murderer (“Crime and Punishment”), and a family self-destructing after, you guessed it, another grisly murder (“The Brothers Karamazov”). 

But in my experience, the more these novelists descend unflinchingly into the dark underbelly of human experience, the more I can see the light, one single match struck in the most profound darkness. The greater the honesty about the depths to which humans can sink, the more I can sense a grace unafraid to make its stubborn, persistent home there. Christ himself, our creed teaches us, descended into hell. What this doctrine tells us, theologian Michael Downey argues in his book “The Depth of God’s Reach: A Spirituality of Christ’s Descent,” is that there is no dark place that Jesus cannot or will not go, lighting it with mercy. 

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Contributed by:

Cameron Bellm is a Seattle-based writer and retreat leader, whose work has been featured in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, Red Letter Christians and Catholic Women Preach.