Part memoir, part essay collection, part spiritual journal, This Gladdening Light offers a unique perspective on the interconnectedness of universal themes—doubt and devotion, childhood and parenthood, disconnection and ecological mindfulness, anguish and empathy—all told at the level of the ground. This much-anticipated nonfiction debut from Christopher Martin is, ultimately, a work of belonging. Through narrative prose that moves between a rain-soaked Appalachian cove, Thoreau’s hut site at Walden Pond, hospital rooms in Atlanta and Cherokee County, Civil War battlefields crossed by highways, and the suburbanized, ore-red hills of northwest Georgia, Martin paints a spirituality of the ordinary, of the creaturely world. Lyrical meditation abounds here, too, where wasps enduring in derelict farm machinery, wildflowers dwelling on the rocks of Arabia Mountain, and two children—whether singing old R.E.M. songs, seeking insignificant butterflies in a roadside ditch, or simply abiding within the timbre of their mother’s heartbeat—all embody an “anonymous and unknown Christ who comes in merciful hiddenness to the distraught pilgrim,” as Thomas Merton wrote. This spirituality of the ordinary cannot ignore violence and injustice—the turmoil so often dismissed by manifestations of faith that lean toward prosperity, individualistic salvation, and the otherworldly. One of the most poignant moments in this book, for example, finds Martin, the same week that racist terror struck Charleston, sitting at the edge of a Civil War battlefield where “some of the wounded burned alive where they fell,” stumbling—and failing—to answer his child’s questions about war and death. The Gospel of Mary asks its readers to follow the “child of true humanity” that exists within. This Gladdening Light is no map to that inner child, as no map exists. But it is certainly one path along the pilgrimage.
"With the eye of a poet and the heart of a saint, my friend Christopher Martin explores a theology of love in this honest, gritty, and transcendent book. His quest, essentially, is for wisdom, and on this journey he brings his wise and beloved teachers—Thoreau, Merton, Jesus, nature—to inform the search. Oh god, if only we all were such seekers."—Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
"It is extraordinary that this insightful work comes from a young writer, whose reflections on religion, nature, literature, and family create a synthesis of ideas and imagery that is as pleasurable to read as it is effecting." —Anthony Grooms, author of The Vain Conversation, Bombingham, and Trouble No More
"Christian, father, husband, environmentalist, southerner: those are all hard things to be in the 21st century. In these essays, we follow a young writer as he wrestles mightily with the implications and the complications of that identity. Our reward is Martin’s honesty, bravery, and winning prose." —Erik Reece, author of Lost Mountain and An American Gospel
"Christopher Martin speaks with an unfettered heart about family, nature, life, and death in a beautiful collection of essays that are both relatable and poignant. He is bold in articulating what so many of us think, but maybe are too afraid to say. He explores what it is to be human alongside the great unknown that religion presents us. His words offer comfort to the restless, acceptance to the misunderstood, and a majestic view of the natural world—that ever expansive wilderness of small wonders that is God’s creation." —Cristina M. Martin, founding editor of Loose Change Magazine
"Disillusioned by the “artificial light spread by industrial Christianity,” Christopher Martin is in search of a new theology. Through a spiritual pilgrimage consisting of treks amid the Appalachians, unsuccessful backyard gardening, and (above all else) the births of a son and daughter, Martin’s faith is renewed by “the God I met in my children…a God who could be human.” Steeped in the physical and political environs of the American south and spiritually inheriting from both Thoreau’s Walden and Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, This Gladdening Light is a poignant, lyrical, and heartfelt expression of the divinity within our planet and ourselves." —Guatam Narula, author of Remain Free