Cedarville Magazine, Fall 2023

People often ask me how I cling to my faith as a student in the literary arts. It’s an excellent question given the field’s largescale departure from orthodox belief. Following the Reformation, late 17th-century Enlightenment writers began regarding God as a distant, uninvolved figure. The 18th and 19thcentury Romantics strayed further by making nature and poets their subjects of praise. By the turn of the 20th century, Modernists denied the existence of God, and now, Postmodernism and its offshoots assert that no universal religious truths can exist at all. How, then, can I preserve my faith while working in the literary arts? I spent four years developing my answer at Cedarville, and I suspect I’ll continue to refine it for the rest of my life. Here’s my working draft. First, I recall the size of the Christian footprint on the literary world. John Milton, Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, Marilynne Robinson — I could go on and on — are just a few of the Christian writers whose works have built and sustained literary traditions. The Bible is the bestselling book of all time. St. Augustine arguably founded the field of semiotics in 397 A.D. when he published On Christian Teaching. I share these facts not to mock those who fear the literary scene has grown hostile to Christianity — for believers can encounter much derision in this field — but rather, to offer some hope. The faithful remnant has always had a voice in the world of storytelling, and that encourages me. Second, I call to mind how the Lord has used the literary arts to sanctify me. Few things have revealed the world’s nuance, depravity, and beauty to me quite like literature has; few things have demanded from me such attentiveness, humility, and critical thought. I think that much of literature’s devotional potential comes from the questions it asks. What makes someone human? How should we handle suffering and injustice? What would the perfect world be like? When people analyze stories, they discover that plotlines and characters are the vehicles by which authors wrestle with life’s big questions. I dissent from many of the antiGod answers that my discipline’s leading theories offer, but I nonetheless insist on the importance of their questions. One of my missions in this field is to find and share more satisfying answers. That’s a difficult task. It keeps me dependent on God. Finally, I pray for wisdom and faith, and I try to return to the Bible more than any other book, and I ask the Lord to grant me opportunities in the field He’s made me love. I’ll share a story as an example. In spring 2022, my husband and I discussed going to graduate school together. He wanted a physics PhD, and I wanted an MFA in creative writing. When we researched programs and calculated the likelihood of us being accepted at the same university, our chances came in at under 7%. Still, we each submitted 11 applications. We prayed for half a year. Four hours before the national graduate school acceptance deadline, I was admitted off the waitlist into the University of Iowa, our favorite school, and one at which my husband had already been accepted. My academic building in Iowa City sits 200 feet away from our new church. And get this: At that church, one of the elders is a physics professor married to a creative writer. If anything, the Lord has used the literary arts to nourish my faith. Heidie (Raine) Senseman ’23 is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa. One of my missions in this field is to find and share more satisfying answers. That’s a difficult task. It keeps me dependent on God. 20