Thursday, June 4, 2009

Flannery and Faith

This past Sunday I preached a sermon on the Holy Spirit in honor of Pentecost entitled "Spirit-Haunted Dreams." I took as a starting off point the quotation of the prophet Joel in Peter's speech in Acts 2 where he explains to the crowd about the manifestations of the Spirit. The passage from Joel mentions that in the last days God would pour out the spirit and all would dream dreams. I made the point that the visions of the Spirit may be difficult for us to receive, because God may reveal to us the parts of our lives and our world that we would rather ignore.

I was inspired to think about such things by an article I read last week in The Atlantic about the new biography of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch. The reviewer, Joseph O'Neil, used Gooch's work as well as other writings by O'Connor to speak about her Gothic tales of the South which were filled with religion. He wrote:

O’Connor was dismissive of any pressure, whether of religious or secular origin, for more “positive” fiction. She saw no contradiction between her faith and her art. Just the opposite:

“Because I am a Catholic I cannot afford to be less than an artist.” However, she stated,
the novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.

This assertion, taken together with O’Connor’s assertion that the central mystery is why human existence “has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for,” constitutes the following argument: (1) from the Christian viewpoint, the modern human condition is filled with a peculiar horror; (2) therefore, to fictionally depict humans in their peculiarly horrifying aspect is necessary in order to explore the mysteries of redemption and grace.

I'm no expert on O'Connor. I've just read a number of her short stories but none of her novels or essays. Nonetheless, I found this statement very powerful regarding how our culture accepts distortions of creation as natural and therefore the Christian writer has a duty to expose them as such. For me, this was an apt metaphor for the work of the Spirit.

Also, for the O'Connor fans out there, it should be noted that my sermon title "Spirit-Haunted Dreams" took its inspiration from a work on O'Connor by Ralph Wood called Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South.

Grace and Peace,


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