“The boys in the classroom were right to be scared of her irony. O’Connor’s was not the shifty, reactive, and merely local variety that passes for irony today: sitcom irony, skinny-jeans irony. It was vertical and biblical: the irony by which the mighty are lowered, the humble exalted, and the savior dies on a cross. And she would shortly be required to submit to it herself, in full. Within three years of leaving Iowa, where she had prayed for desire of the Lord to claim her like a disease, she was diagnosed with lupus. Stricken, she returned to her mother’s farm in Milledgeville, her base of production for the novels Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, and the short-story collections A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, the latter published posthumously. Health and sex and adventure had been taken from her, and in their place was a vision, her world, blast-lit and still reeling under the first shock of creation. “The air was so quiet,” she wrote in “The River,” “he could hear the broken pieces of the sun knocking in the water.” It was a gift. And we are left with a question: Without this terrible narrowing-down, would she have achieved the greatness she prayed for? This illness, this thing that confined her, that hauled her, crutches clanking, into a premature spinsterhood, and finally killed her at the age of 39, can we call it by the name of grace? Dare we?”—The Passion of Flannery O’Connor - James Parker - The Atlantic (via ayjay)
Which brings us back to that notorious sinner John F. Kennedy. What exhausts skeptics of the Kennedy cult, both its elegiac and paranoid forms, is the way it makes a saint out of a reckless adulterer, a Camelot out of a sordid political operation, a world-historical figure out of a president whose fate was tragic but whose record was not terribly impressive.
But in many ways the impulses driving the Kennedy nostalgists are the same ones animating Lewis’s Puddleglum and Huxley’s Savage — the desire for grace and beauty, for icons and heroes, for a high-stakes dimension to human affairs that a consumerist, materialist civilization can flatten and exclude.
"People in all walks of life used to put forth effort not to be taken for White Trash — in contrast to people today, who risk hepatitis to ape the decorative styles of prison gangs. Not being White Trash wasn’t a matter of money. It was purely behavioral.
Smith, like most of us, suffers from the national economic malaise, yet he relies on a regional solution. He makes booze. He makes money. He tries to avoid the taxman and the law while expanding his sales. What’s more American than that?
“I’ve been extremely critical, since 2012, of what I’ve called the “donorist” worldview within the G.O.P., which basically imagines that the party’s only problem is its stance on social issues, and that with the right mix of immigration boosterism and gay marriage flip-flopping, Republicans can cruise to victory without so much as tweaking their “1980 forever” economic agenda.”—The Revenge of Donorism
Anyway, to return to my point of departure, a belief in providence is an ineffably precious thing at times. It seems to me rather absurd when Christians feel obliged either to celebrate or to lament the conversion of Constantine—to proclaim it either as the victory of the true faith over its persecutors or as the victory of the devil over the purity of the Gospel—rather than simply to accept it and all its historical sequels as part of the mysterious story of grace working upon fallen natures: to love everything good and splendid that it produced, to deplore everything sordid and evil, and then to recognize as well (and this is the most challenging task of all) that the tale of Christendom’s failure and defeat is also enfolded within those same workings of grace. Christendom was that cultural reality that was constitutionally, materially, morally, intellectually, and religiously disposed to hear the Gospel as a cosmic truth, to which it was therefore always open, if not necessarily very obedient. For that, Christians would be churlish to be ungrateful.
All of that, however, is now an exhausted history, one at least as tragic as it was joyous. The sheer banality of modern secular culture, and of its curiously rationalistic brutalities, may be a catastrophe for Western civilization; but it is also the inevitable result of a confusion between two orders that can never be one, and between which any real alliance can be at most a dialectic of reciprocal enrichment and impoverishment, in which each draws strength from the other only by surrendering something of its own essence.
So perhaps the best moral sense Christians can make of the story of Christendom now, from the special vantage of its aftermath, is to recall that the Gospel was never bound to the historical fate of any political or social order, but always claimed to enjoy a transcendence of all times and places. Perhaps its presence in human history should always be shatteringly angelic: It announces, even over against one’s most cherished expectations of the present or the future, a truth that breaks in upon history, ever and again, always changing or even destroying the former things in order to make all things new. That being so, surely modern Christians should find some joy in being forced to remember that they are citizens of a Kingdom not of this world, that here they have no enduring city, and that they are called to live as strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
David Bentley Hart is an editor at large for First Things and author of The Devil and Pierre Gernet.
But the West is merely an abstraction if severed from the local settings in which Westerners live, from Empire Falls, Maine, or Levittown, Pennsylvania. In fact, the very survival of liberal education may depend on efforts to leaven Newman with Berry, or to ground intentionally the liberally educated mind in the particularity of local cultures.
For without the real generation of children who learn about the West and its virtues from parents, neighbors, teachers and pastors, a liberal education may become little more than a game for cosseted academics, or a disembodied five-foot shelf of decorative books, cut off from real people whose lives and communities embody and situate the true, the good, and the beautiful.
“Quite simply, there is no formation without repetition. There is no habituation without being immersed in a practice over and over again… So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship—because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition. We’ve let the devil, so to speak, have all the repetition. And we, as liturgical animals, are only too happy to find our rhythms in such repetition. Unless Christian worship eschews the cult of novelty and embraces the good of faithful repetition, we will constantly be ceding habituation to secular liturgies.”—James K.A. Smith, Imagining The Kingdom: How Worship Works (via settledthingsstrange)
Every meeting I’ve ever had since I began full-time advocacy, I have brought with me a book of Seamus Heaney’s poems. I always think if you’re asking somebody for something it’s a good idea to give them something first. So I always gave them Seamus Heaney’s poems. This is from the pope to every president I have ever met. In this past week I gave Seamus’s book Electric Light to President Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia. She’s currently obsessed with the efforts to bring electricity to her people so she could not believe it.
Seamus has been with me on every journey I have taken, and there have been many times when a retreat into his words has kept me afloat. Most of our life in this kind of work is very concrete, full of facts, but we all have to seek redress from time to time in poetry. Seamus was where I went for that. He was the quietest storm that ever blew into town. As an activist, From the Republic of Conscience has been like a bible for me, something I return to and have returned to for as long as I can remember. Some of those phrases are like tattoos for me, worn very close to the heart.
We live in a relentlessly commercial culture, so it’s natural that many people would organize their lives in utilitarian and consequentialist terms. But it’s possible to get carried away with this kind of thinking — to have logic but no wisdom, to become a specialist without spirit.
Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart.
Last week, one of my college friends, who now manages vast sums at a hedge fund, visited me. He’s the most rational person I know, so I asked him how he would go about deciding whether to go to grad school in a discipline like English or comparative literature. He dealt immediately with the sample bias problem by turning toward statistics. His first step, he said, would be to ignore the stories of individual grad students, both good and bad. Their experiences are too variable and path-dependent, and their stories are too likely to assume an unwarranted weight in our minds. Instead, he said, he would focus on the “base rates”: that is, on the numbers that give you a broad statistical picture of outcomes from graduate school in the humanities. What percentage of graduate students end up with tenure? (About one in four.) How much more unhappy are graduate students than other people? (About fifty-four per cent of graduate students report feeling so depressed they have “a hard time functioning,” as opposed to ten per cent of the general population.) To make a rational decision, he told me, you have to see the big picture, because your experience is likely to be typical, rather than exceptional. “If you take a broader view of the profession,” he told me, “it seems like a terrible idea to go to graduate school.”
Perhaps that’s the rational conclusion, but, if so, it’s beset on all sides by confounding little puzzles; they act like streams that divert and weaken the river of rational thought. Graduate school, for example, is a one-time-only offer. Very few people start doctoral programs later in life. If you pass it up, you pass it up forever. Given that, isn’t walking away actually the rash decision? (This kind of thinking is a subspecies of the habit of mind psychologists call loss aversion: once you have something, it’s very hard to give it up; if you get into grad school, it’s very hard not to go.) And then there’s the fact that graduate school, no matter how bad an idea it might be in the long term, is almost always fulfilling and worthwhile in the short term. As our conversation continued, my friend was struck by this. “How many people get paid to read what they want to read,” he asked, “and study what they want to study?” He paused. ”If I got into a really good program, I would probably go.”
Writers talk a lot about epiphanies—what O’Connor, in her Catholic tradition, called “grace”—in short stories. But I think we’re tyrannized by a misunderstanding of Joyce’s notion of the epiphany. That stories should toodle on their little track toward a moment where the characters understand something they didn’t understand before—and, at that moment, they’re transformed into better people.
You know: Suddenly Billy understood that his grandmother had always gone through a lot of difficult things, and he resolved he would never treat her that way again.
This kind of conversion notion is based on a very comforting idea—that if only we had sufficient information, we wouldn’t act badly. And that’s one of the great things about what The Misfit tells the Grandmother in the line I like so much. He’s not saying that a near-death experience would have turned her into a good woman. He’s saying it would take somebody threatening to shoot her every minute of her life.
In other words, these conversion experiences don’t stick—or they don’t stick for very long. Human beings have to be re-educated over and over and over again as we swim upstream against our own irrationalities.
(There’s a great line in Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane, where one of the protagonist’s enemies says to him: “You’re going to need more than one lesson, Mr. Kane, and you’re going to get more than one lesson.”)
Now, O’Connor really believes that we can flood, momentarily, with the kind of grace that epiphany is supposed to represent. But I think she also believes that we’re essentially sinners. She’s saying: Don’t think for a moment that because you’ve had a brief instant of illumination, and you suddenly see yourself with clarity, that you’re not going to transgress two days down the road.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”—The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien (via traverserlemonde)
“If one listens to academics, one might make the mistake of thinking they would like their complaints to be remedied; but in fact the complaints of academics are their treasures, and were you to remove them, you would find either that they had been instantly replenished or that you were now their object. The reason that academics want and need their complaints is that it is important for them to feel oppressed, for in the psychic economy of the academy, oppression is a sign of virtue.”—Stanley Fish, “The Unbearable Ugliness of Volvos” (here)
“So decrepit and so abused is the language of the Judeo-Christian religions that it takes an effort to salvage them, the very words, from the husks and barnacles of meaning which have encrusted them over the centuries. Or else words can become slick as coins worn thin by usage and so devalued. One of the tasks of the saint is to renew language, to sing a new song. The novelist, no saint, has a humbler task. He must use every ounce of skill, cunning, humor, even irony, to deliver religion from the merely edifying.”—Walker Percy, “Why Are You a Catholic?” in Signposts in a Strange Land (via invisibleforeigner)
“[The fairy tale] does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat…giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy; Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”—J. R. R. Tolkien, On Fairy-stories (via u-n-d-o-m-i-e-l)
“Marc was being home-schooled to accommodate his performance and practice schedule. At the age of a third-grader, he was taking an SAT class. Chloe serves as his manager and reviews concert invitations with him. “In America, every kid has to be well rounded,” Chloe said. “They have 10 different activities, and they never excel at any of them. Americans want everyone to have the same life; it’s a cult of the average. This is wonderful for disabled children, who get things they would never have otherwise, but it’s a disaster for gifted children. Why should Marc spend his life learning sports he’s not interested in when he has this superb gift that gives him so much joy?”—From a NY Times article called “How to Raise a Prodigy”- incredibly interesting. (via thepoptimist)
“There is a question whether faith can or is supposed to be emotionally satisfying. I must say that the thought of everyone lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me.”—Flannery O’Connor (via dailyflanneryoc)
As I type this, I am looking out my window at the flying buttresses of a church, admiring their beauty, and thinking of the unknown medieval craftsmen who built them to the glory of God. Paris provokes those kinds of contemplations, at least in me, in a way that other places do not. Some men are moved to think deep and wide thoughts by the mountains, or the forests, or the ocean. I am moved to think them by flying buttresses, and bookstores, and the loving care with which a dignified wine vendor with good manners and bad teeth explains to me why this inexpensive bottle of red wine from the Loire Valley is a thing to be cherished.
This is why I’m happy in Paris in a way that I’m not happy in Altoona: Because most of the things that matter most to me in life — faith, food, beauty, contemplation, conversation — exist here in a degree of harmony and intensity that they do not anywhere else. Put another way, I am most myself here, or so it seems to me.
Except that I’m not, not really. I could never live here permanently; I am an American, and will never be anything other than that. Travel is wonderful because it tells you who you are, but also who you are not. My feet haven’t yet touched the ground in Paris, my delight is such here, but I am comforted by the thought that in a month, I will be back home in St. Francisville, which is my place, and where I understand, and am understood, in ways not possible here in Paris. It sounds paradoxical, and I guess it is, but I am confident in the accuracy of James Baldwin’s insight about how all the things he loved dearly about Paris were an illusion concealing from himself his fundamental Americanness.
“Even if one were able to render the whole of the content of faith into conceptual form, it would not follow that one had grasped faith, grasped how one came to it, or how it came to one.”—Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (1843), trans. Alastair Hannay (via unapologetic-book)
“The high-school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. He will teach literature, not social studies or little lessons in democracy or the customs of many lands.
And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.”—Flannery O’Connor (via Nathan Chang)
“The real question, John [of the Cross] suggests, is about what you are really after: Do you want ‘spirituality’, mystical experience, inner peace, or do you want God? If you want God, then you must be prepared to let go all, absolutely all, substitute satisfactions, intellectual and emotional. You must recognize that God is so unlike whatever can be thought or pictured that, when you have got beyond the stage of self-indulgent religiosity, there will be nothing you can securely know or feel. You face a blank: and any attempt to avoid that or shy away from it is a return to playing comfortable religious games. The dark night is God’s attack on religion. If you genuinely desire union with the unspeakable love of God, then you must be prepared to have your own religious world shattered. If you think devotional practices, theological insights, even charitable actions give you some sort of purchase on God, you are still playing games. On the other hand, if you can face and accept and even rejoice in the experience of darkness, if you accept God is more than an idea which keeps your religion or philosophy or politics tidy – then you may find a way back to religion, philosophy or politics, to an engagement with them that is more creative because you are more aware of the oddity, the uncontrollable quality of the truth at the heart of all things. This is what ‘detachment’ means – not being ‘above the battle’, but being involved in such a way that you can honestly confront whatever comes to you without fear of the unknown; it is a kind of readiness for the unexpected, if that is not too much of a paradox.”—Rowan Williams, “The Dark Night” (via ayjay)
“The Jeffersonian creed is true; the Jeffersonian error was in considering only the sunny side of it. All men are equal in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; all men are also equal in the doom of death, in the temptation to take liberties, and the tendency to pursue happiness in ways that make them horribly unhappy.”—G.K. Chesterton (via acceptandembrace)