The Beast I'm Glad God Invented

It became apparent, though, by the time I was sixteen that I was not called to a holy profession as I had previously thought. “Many are called but few are chose,” the Bible says. I experienced a minor resurgence of devotion as a senior in high school when I discovered Dostoyevsky, who swallowed me whole. If I couldn’t become a regular Christian I could at least follow the lunatic versions of the Great Russian, not the best path for mental health I learned.
~ Jim Harrison, Off To The Side
I cannot remember the exact date I discovered Jim Harrison. It was probably via the film “Legends of the Fall” and I first saw that, lord, over twenty years ago now. I don’t care when it was, only that it happened. Like Jonah’s great beast, Harrison swallowed me whole. Unlike the biblical fish, he has yet to spit me out, thanks be to God. 
That discovery occurred at a time when I was searching for my people, so to speak. I, too, had determined I couldn’t be a regular Christian, whateverthehell that means. For example, I’ve found some Christians find great solace in the Inklings – Lewis, Tolkien, et al. But they never stirred me. I suppose I must be rather difficult to stir. Anyway, I began reading the Great Michigander, a crooked little path which led me to Tom McGuane and Ted Kooser and Louise Erdrich and Gretel Ehrlich and Rick Bass and Barry Lopez and a handful of other voices, voices that helped me feel a little less lost. You could call that group the Off To The Siders, and for all of them I am beyond thankful. But the doorway was Harrison.
I believe if you’ve read one Jim Harrison book, you have, in a sense, read them all. His poetry and prose are filled with absolute flashes of foolish trout brilliance that take you by surprise. But you don’t read Harrison for that reason. You read Harrison to be reminded of the beautiful body of this earth. As an irregular Christian, I believe when that revelatory voice said, “You have left your first love” that the meaning there is all of creation, the good earth and her gifts. Biblical scholars would disagree with me there, that’s fine. You read Jim Harrison to fall in love again with that which matters – creeks and ravens and friends and poetry and wine and sex and dogs and daughters and trees and wives and laughter and music and food, and the list only goes on.  
Early in his career, Harrison was dogged by depression and suicidal tendencies. He worked some of his salvation out in his Letters to Yesenin, a collection of one-sided prose poems to a Russian poet who committed suicide. In a most piercing line, Harrison wrote “My year-old daughter’s red robe hangs from the doorknob shouting Stop.” Yes, some days so much depends on the red wheelbarrow, or the red robe.
A good friend asked me this week if I thought I’ll see Harrison in heaven. I smiled and said, “Yes.” Then I pushed the salsa his direction and nodded to the chips, and we kept talking about the things of earth.

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  1. Caroline Starr Rose on April 1, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    I thought of you when I read of Harrison’s death. I don’t remember where, but I found your blog because you talked about him somewhere. I also found him through Legends of the Fall and have only read a handful of his novellas, but man. What a writer.

  2. Lori on April 1, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Thank you for your brand of “irregular” Christianity… although I think that’s the only kind there is. I’m grateful to find fellow sojourners online when I find them so difficult to find in everyday life!

    • thebeautifuldue on April 3, 2016 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks, Lori! And yes, I tend to agree – that’s the only kind.

  3. Jacky on April 2, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks John for telling us more about Jim Harrison and more of you. I’ve
    shared both with my husband now, and he’s on board with reading at least one of Harrison’s books this year.
    I, however, am more interested in what I’m discovering in more of you men (mostly in their 40s) who are willing and/or driven or risking or simply desiring to put bits of your gut-real selves out there for the world to see. Not the confident, success oriented men, selling motivation and bravado. But men who are asking hard question, expressing their angst, digging down to the core of life where belief is born…or dies. It’s staggering and encouraging at the same time. I’m listening …

    • thebeautifuldue on April 3, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Jacky, if I had to pick one book of Harrison’s to recommend, it would be Returning to Earth.
      As for the other, yes, I feel some of it is season of life. By the time you’re forty you’ve learned (hopefully) that the confident, bravado stance is rather exhausting. Its fine when you’re a little younger, probably needed even. But your vision changes as you age, you see things differently. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. cvinson88 on April 5, 2016 at 12:16 am

    I’ve never read Harrison but did see Legends of the Fall – if that captures even a hint of what’s found in his writing…wow. And as always your words stir so much in me. This was a beautiful.

  5. Jacky on April 5, 2016 at 2:57 am

    We will heed your JH recommendation. Thank you!

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