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Cairns's warm, calm, personal tones win him respect in many quarters, but his core audience comes from his subject matter: the mysteries, consolations and consequences of Christian belief. Questions about how to live as a Christian, how to understand such theological concepts as eros and agape, as sacrifice and resurrection, give depth and seriousness to his verse. Familiarity not only with New Testament texts but with the Church Fathers, their methods of exegesis and sometimes parallel questions from Jewish Learning give Cairns a range of allusion and launching pads for his poems, as in the winning series 'Adventures in New Testament Greek." A poem from his first collection, The Theology of Doubt (1985), explores 'the sober forms / of worship, the forms love rakes// when the mind is rested" "Late Apocalypse," one of the 27 new poems, begins, "Blessed is anyone who reads much of anything, blessed / and most unusual." That poem, among his best, rises into a serious condemnation of our consumer-driven world. More often Cairns seeks compassionate ways to apply the lessons of theologians or of Christ to his own life; one does not need to be Christian, or even religious, to profit from what he finds.
Publisher's Weekly June 5, 2006