In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, author Annie Dillard explores her own relationship with God and nature, and the associations between the two. Dillard makes plenty of religious references throughout the text as a whole, exploring different facets of God. Among these are many intriguing references to Christian doctrine. Dillard begins the book with a via positiva outlook of God and creation, and eventually slides down into the via negativa - taking a harsher look at nature.
One of the largest themes found while reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was the meta-textual reference to Noah’s Ark. In Chapter 9, Flood, the reader is introduced to the idea of a God of Wrath in Dillard’s volatile description of the high creek during a flood: “It smashes under the bridge like a fist, but there is no end to its force; it hurtles down as far as I can see till it lurches round the bend, filling the valley, flattening, mashing, pushed, wider and faster, till it fills my brain” (Dillard 172). This is a fascinating description of the power of water, and in a symbolic way, the power of God.
In the Christian Bible, there are two versions of God: that of Forgiver, and that of Judger. The God of Love versus the God of Wrath. God is believed to be both, leaning more towards one over the other in different scenarios. Noah’s Ark and the Flood as accounted in the Bible would be a prime example of the God of Wrath: God decided to destroy the entire Earth and all of its inhabitants (besides two of every species loaded up on a boat built by his last faithful follower, Noah and his family) in an effort to rid the world of the nastiness it had become overrun with.
Dillards version of this flood is to recount watching the rising creek destroy and conquer.
In previous chapters Dillard does explore the God of Love: she starts Chapter two, Seeing, with a cute childhood story about hiding pennies along the sidewalk and drawing chalk arrows for strangers to follow to find the penny; “I was greatly excited, during all the arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe” (Dillard 16). She’s describing something very close to miracles and blessings in the Christian religion. She connects this story to make the claim that there are many things to be seen, and that there is a gift given to the seer, “regardless of merit,” through this simple process of actively seeing.
This is reminiscent of Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Dillard says, “The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand” (Dillard 17). In my copy of the text, I underlined “generous hand” and wrote in the margin “God?” Her entire argument is so perfectly set up as a Jesus parable I couldn’t help but notice it.
Although I have only drawn parallels between the text and western Christianity, there are plenty of parts of the text that lend themselves to more Eastern connotations. Dillard is not solely teasing out the Christian God. The story of the pennies could easily be read into an example of the Tao, meditation, or could even be used for atheistic interpretations of the text. What I took away most from the text as a whole is the distinction between pretty nature and ugly nature, Wrath versus Love, and Dillard's blatant investigation into both sides.