The narrator is a woman who lives alone in a rural area of Puget Sound. She is a writer, an observer, a spiritual thinker. "Each day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time" begins her musings about the first of three days. But on day two, a catastrophe occurs: a small plane crashes and a seven-year-old girl’s face is "burned off" as she is carried away from the explosion in her father’s arms.

The narrator had met the girl once before, at a neighbor’s farm, and had formed a connection--they looked alike and the girl playfully tormented the narrator’s cat with a dress-up game. The narrator imagines the girl in the hospital, imagines her future life as a nun with no face, and ultimately imagines a gentler future in which the girl’s face is restored, she is married and the narrator has assumed the function of the nun for her.

Throughout, the narrator wrestles with the hard questions of life: why are we here; why do horrible things happen; what is the relationship of God and the world; where is God and what is he doing? She is angry: "Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flamefaced children, to remind us what God can--and will--do?"

A Christian, she seeks answers in her wide-ranging theology, and seems to find an inroad in the idea of "Holy the Firm"--a substance lower than salts and minerals, below the earth’s crust, in touch with "the Absolute." The narrator hence posits that "Holy the Firm" allows for an unbroken circle between God, Christ, and the created world.


Themes of fire, water, creation, and connection are lyrically examined by a lively mind with a keen eye: a moth burns on a candle wick "like a building fire glimpsed through silhouetted walls." The author uses a life-changing medical catastrophe to grapple with the difficult spiritual and theological questions about the meaning and tragedies of life.


Holy the Firm was revised by the author for publication in The Annie Dillard Reader.


Harper & Row

Place Published

New York



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