Today would be Flannery O’Connor’s 97th birthday.
- “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.” Mystery and Manners, p. 112.
- “The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and that I have reported the progress of a few of them, and when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.” Mystery and Manners, 117.
- “Wise blood has to be these people’s means of grace—they have no sacraments. The religion of the South is a do-it-yourself religion, something which I as a Catholic find painful and touching and grimly comic. It’s full of unconscious pride that lands them in all sorts of ridiculous religious predicaments. They have nothing to correct their practical heresies and so they work them out dramatically. If this were merely comic to me, it would be no good, but I accept the same fundamental doctrines of sin and redemption and judgment that they do.” The Habit of Being, p. 350.
I recommend again Jonathan Rogers, The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor (Thomas Nelson 2012) [link].
I had seen this some time ago, and truly envied the skills of artist who did it. I was not sure how I had come across it, but began to look for it on the web, and found it in several places. At the One Drawing Challenge 2021 [link], I learned that it was not the interior of a ruined church, as I had supposed, but of the abandoned Cardiff Coal Exchange in Wales. (A capriccio is an architectural fantasy.) As I followed the thread, I found that this capriccio was part of Dan Liu’s 2014 Master Thesis Project (which better explained why I had seen it before). A 26-page presentation on the project is available at issuu [link] where Liu posted it in 2014. His BSc portfolio is also available on issuu [link].
The Trinity Forum, The Rabbit Room, and the WindRider Institute sponsored a conversation with Makoto Fujimura yesterday, and it was a delight to “get to know” this painter. Here’s the [link].
He spoke generally about “Art + Faith: A Theology of Making” but these nuggets especially caught my attention:
- how “forced binaries” (conservative-progressive, left-right, etc.) satisfy our “lust for certainty”;
- how the Japanese art of Kintsugi (which “repairs” broken pottery and calls attention to the repair, where the Western goal is to make it appear that there was never any break) may inform how we are to receive other broken people; and
- how there are still “burning bushes” though we have stopped taking our shoes off.
Well worth an hour of your time. Watch, don’t just listen, for Fujimura’s delightfully expressive and joyful face.
I hope you have been following the ever reliable Sarah Willard (Blind Mule Blog) and Alan Jacobs (Snakes and Ladders), as both have been amazingly prolific over the last few months. Don’t wait for me to point you to specific posts!
It is always terribly hard to be sure exactly what happened, but it is easy to collect opinions.
Dieu a établi la prière pour communiquer
à ses ceatures la dignité de la causalité.
The Bible says Sennacherib’s campaign was foiled
By angels: in Herodotus it says, by mice—
Innumerably nibbling all one night they toiled
To eat away his bowstrings as warm wind eats ice.
But muscular archangels, I suggest, employed
Seven little jaws to labour at each slender string,
And by their aid, weak masters though they be, destroyed
The smiling-lipped Assyrian, cruel bearded king.
No stranger that omnipotence should choose to need
Small helps than great—no stranger if His action lingers
Till men have prayed, and suffers their weak prayers indeed
To move as very muscles in his delaying fingers,
Who, in His longanimity and love for our
Small dignities, enfeebles, for a time, His power.
C.S. Lewis, “Sonnet” (Oxford Magazine, May 14, 1936) [link]
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
Lord Byron, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” [link].
The next king was the priest of Hephaestus whose name was Sethos. He despised and had no regard for the warrior Egyptians, thinking he would never need them; besides otherwise dishonoring them, he took away the chosen lands which had been given to them, twelve fields to each man, in the reign of former kings. So when presently king Sanacharib came against Egypt, with a great force of Arabians and Assyrians, the warrior Egyptians would not march against him.
The priest, in this quandary, went into the temple shrine and there before the god’s image bitterly lamented over what he expected to suffer. Sleep came on him while he was lamenting, and it seemed to him the god stood over him and told him to take heart, that he would come to no harm encountering the power of Arabia: “I shall send you champions,” said the god.
So he trusted the vision, and together with those Egyptians who would follow him camped at Pelusium, where the road comes into Egypt; and none of the warriors would go with him, but only merchants and craftsmen and traders. Their enemies came there, too, and during the night were overrun by a horde of field mice that gnawed quivers and bows and the handles of shields, with the result that many were killed fleeing unarmed the next day.
And to this day a stone statue of the Egyptian king stands in Hephaestus’ temple, with a mouse in his hand, and an inscription to this effect:
“Look at me, and believe.”
Herodotus, Histories, II, 141, 1-6 (tr. A.D. Godley) [link].
[The Lord says] “I will shield this city [Jerusalem] and rescue it for the sake of my reputation and because of my promise to David my servant.” That very night the Lord’s messenger went out and killed 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp. When they got up early the next morning, there were all the corpses. So King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and went on his way. He went home and stayed in Nineveh.
2 Kings 19:34-36
Andrew Peterson gave the (virtual?) commencement address at his daughter’s (virtual?) graduation. “The Certainty of Time in Uncertain Times,” The Rabbit Room (June 8, 2020) [link]:
Six months ago things (for me, at least) were kind of chugging along, and no one had ever heard of COVID-19. But in a flash, everything changed. Now our history has a new dividing line: before Coronavirus and after Coronavirus, kind of like 9/11. I used to have a pretty good idea what was coming, but now I haven’t a clue, from one day to the next. I watch the news with a desperate hope that they’ll tell us this pandemic is going to be over in a week, that systemic racism is finally banished from our hearts and our nation, that the world, at last, is at peace. I long for it. Everything feels so crazy that I just want to make some soup and get a blankie and let John Krasinski to tell me some good news.
But to say that these times are uncertain implies that the time before was certain. Graduates, these times aren’t any less certain than a year ago or 100 or 1,000 years ago. The times have always been uncertain.
This is, of course reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ “Learning in War-Time,” from The Weight of Glory (1949) (“The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.”).
Adrian Brandon has done a series of portraits in which the subject is sketched in pencil, but the portrait is only partially finished in color:
This series is dedicated to the many black people that were robbed of their lives at the hands of the police. In addition to using markers and pencil, I use time as a medium to define how long each portrait is colored in. 1 year of life = 1 minute of color. Tamir Rice was 12 when he was murdered, so I colored his portrait for 12 minutes. . . .
“Stolen,” adrianbrandon.com [link]. The artist helps us see these subjects as lives cut short. (The short video of the coloring of Marzues Scott is fascinating as an art lesson as well.)
Gary Sheffield describes two encounters with the police in “Do You Believe Me Now?” The Player’s Tribune (June 12, 2020) [link]. It is important, I think, for us to hear these stories from people we know personally, but many of us we “know” and have “relationships with” athletes and actors whom we have followed for years. Their experiences are worth listening to, and are all too consistent with what we hear from our friends. Sheffield writes:
The unfortunate reality is that my stories aren’t unique. They’re not special or extraordinary, and neither am I. What happened to George Floyd could have easily — and far too often — happened to me or others.
What has made George Floyd’s death a defining moment in this country — what distinguishes it from countless others who were murdered and remain anonymous — was that this otherwise desensitized country actually saw it happen.
Listen, weep, wait to respond.
Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark: Thought on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making (2019) [link].
This is an absolutely marvelous book if you (1) are a fan of Andrew Peterson, (2) are interested in Christians in the arts, or (3) read books. (Okay, I threw the last one in, because I think this could have very broad appeal.) Peterson, of course is a singer-songwriter living near Nashville who is also involved the lives of a number of creative Christians in an online community called The Rabbit Room.*
You likely know Peterson as a thoughtful singer-songwriter and (perhaps) a gleeful author — mostly of fantasy novels — but in this case his thoughtful faith plays out in a string of reflections and personal anecdotes about the faith and the creative calling. Adorning the Dark is memoir and (in the best sense) sermon.
There are many delightful anecdotes referencing the influences on his thought, including some usual suspects (C.S. Lewis, Rich Mullins, Wendell Berry) and some decidedly unusual suspects (The Dragonlance novels, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor). Tolkien and Dylan were relatively late additions. By far, though, it is friends and fellow believers who seem to have built themselves into Peterson’s life. Continue reading Jesu juva
I was not aware of Every Moment Holy until a few days ago, but would like to do my belated part to praise what is praiseworthy. Douglas McKelvey has written some very nice liturgies which the low church among us can experience as poems and prayers,* and published them as an illustrated book. The illustrations, including the one at right, are by Ned Bustard.
This one seems particularly appropriate, though I will quote only part:
In a world so wired and interconnected,
our anxious hearts are pummeled by
an endless barrage of troubling news.
We are daily aware of more grief, O Lord,
than we can rightly consider,
of more suffering and scandal
than we can respond to, of more
hostility, hatred, horror, and injustice
than we can engage with compassion.
But you, O Jesus, are not disquieted
by such news of cruelty and terror and war.
You are neither anxious nor overwhelmed.
You carried the full weight of the suffering
of a broken world when you hung upon
the cross, and you carry it still.
From “A Liturgy for those Flooded by Too Much Information” Several, including “LfTFbTMI” are available for free download. [link]. Why download them? Because they are beautifully designed (and we all read better on paper).
*The book seems very beautiful, and you can read more about the author, illustrator and background at everymomentholy.com.
Lore Ferguson Wilbert reviews a new book for the Gospel Coalition that sounds like it would be an excellent read for a married+single church study:
Allberry argues that although sex is part of intimacy in marriage, it isn’t as foundational to intimacy as friendship—and friendship is available to the unmarried as well as the married. This concept, if truly believed and adopted, would free many unmarried Christians who worry they’re missing out on intimacy because of their singleness. And, if God does give the gift of marriage, this understanding of foundational intimate friendship could help address the complications many marriages have around sex.
The NYTMag describes a newly discovered Rembrandt in Russell Shorto, “Rembrandt in the Blood: An Obsessive Aristocrat, Rediscovered Paintings and an Art-World Feud,” The New York Times Magazine (Feb. 27, 2019) [link]. Very interesting! (Thanks, GLBH.)
I am unclear why First Things is publishing a review of a poor novel from the 1980s, but I have an idea, and the review is worth reading, even if the book is not.
I think Justin Lee properly discounts a certain kind of Protestant literature, and correctly critiques Frank Peretti’s novels:
Peretti’s art fails, and it does so for the simple reason that his representations of angels and demons are not strange enough. His novels just aren’t scary because they fail to be true to the irreducible particularity of human life, which means we don’t see the dangers as real. In the end, readers are left only with what propositional meanings can be gleaned from the surface.
Justin Lee, “The Art of Spiritual Warfare,” First Things (March 2019) [link].
This article really doesn’t do what one expects from a book review, which is to direct the review reader to an interesting book (or warn her off a book not worth her time) or (in the case of a current book) to identify strengths and weaknesses.
I think this is not really a book review, though, but a too-brief attempt to answer the really difficult question “Why can’t Protestants and Evangelicals produce great novels like Catholics and Anglicans?” For that it is worth reading.