Thursday, August 11, 2011

Telling What We See, From Where We Are

I have been re-reading some essays written by Flannery O'Connor in a collection entitled Mystery and Manners, and paying especially close attention to "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," "The Church and the Fiction Writer," "Novelist and Believer," "Catholic Novelists and Their Readers," and "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South."

She was really something else! Here are a few of the gems I am continuing to chew on:
I have heard it said that belief in Christian dogma is a hindrance to the writer, but I myself have found nothing further from the truth. Actually it frees the storyteller to observe. It is not a set of rules which fixes what he sees in the world. It affects his writing primarily by guaranteeing his respect for mystery. 
Fiction is about everything human and we are made of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction. it's not a grand enough job for you.
The Catholic writer, insofar as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for. 
If the average Catholic reader could be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be more of a Manichean than the Church permits. By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliche and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms: the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former , while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him.
If the writer uses his eyes in the real security of his Faith, he will be obliged to use them honestly, and his sense of mystery, and acceptance of it, will be increased...if the Catholic writer hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is. 
All of these essays are, I think, good advice to preachers.O'Connor had no tolerance for pious platitudes in fiction; I suspect she would have said the same about preaching. Too much preaching in our day is Manichean as well. Preaching is not identical to storytelling, but they are close cousins. And at least as much as storytellers, preachers need a healthy respect for mystery. At its best, preaching also is about a willingness to "get dusty" as we learn to tell what we see, from where we are. That is what I think that old word "testimony" means: to reveal God's mysteries by describing as truthfully as we can what we see, from where we are.

No comments:

Post a Comment