Flannery O’Connor’s stories don’t lend themselves to simplistic interpretations. There is good and there is evil but the edges are frayed and the colors are often indistinct. The ambiguity in her stories often rattles us because we like our morals sharp-edged and uncamoflaged. But in Flannery’s stories it is not so. Each one demands reflection and care and leaves itself open to various interpretations. This was intentional. Even when others asked about the particular meaning, she was hesitant to say much. She preferred to leave the mystery rather than have it all explained. (more…)
Archive for March, 2008
In his discussion of the Nicene creed’s statement “one baptism for the remission of sins,” T. F. Torrance explains what it means to be baptized into Christ:
“In baptism we are united to Christ through the Holy Spirit in such a way that we partake of the whole substance of the gospel, for all grace and truth are embodied in him. We may recall the point made by Irenaeus in this connection, when he claimed that the incarnate Son is called and actually is, ‘Salvation, Savior, and Saving Activity‘ and that thus he is ‘salvation made flesh.’ In other words saving grace is not something detached from Christ which can be dispensed at will, but is identical with Christ in the unity of his Person, Word, and Act. It is through the one baptism which we have in common with Christ, or rather which he has in common with us, that we share in all that God has in store for us. Because baptism is one (the baptism with which Christ was baptised for our sakes, and the baptism in which we are given to share in all that he was, is, and will be) to be baptised is much more than to be initiated into the sphere where forgiveness is proclaimed and dispensed in the Church. It is to to be ‘delivered out of the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.’ It is to have our frail, transient existence taken up into Christ himself in such a way, that without any loss to our creaturely reality but rather with its perfecting through his Spirit, it is united to God and established in union with his eternal reality.” (The Trinitarian Faith, p. 297)
So. Jesus is Salvation made flesh [all life is in Him and apart from Him there is no salvation; grace and forgiveness are found in Him alone]. The Spirit unites us to Jesus through baptism, uniting us with His body, the Church, which is the kingdom, house and family of God, the community of faith, the assembly of the saints, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. So when Peter says, “baptism now saves us” he is saying “Jesus saves us.” By baptism the Spirit of Jesus unites us to the Church. The Church is the body of Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is Salvation made flesh.
From “Greenleaf” by Flannery O’Connor
Scene: Mrs. May speaks with Mr. Greenleaf about the new dairy barn his sons have built:
The barn was down the lane from the house. She had not seen it before but Mr. Greenleaf had described it in detail for it had been built according to the latest specifications. It was a milking parlor arrangement where the cows are milked from below. The milk ran in pipes from the machines to the milk house and was never carried in no bucket, Mr. Greenleaf said, by no human hand. “When you gonter get you one?” he had asked.
“Mr. Greenleaf,” she had said, “I have to do for myself. I am not assisted hand and foot by the government. It would cost me $20,000 to install a milking parlor. I barely make ends meet as it is.”
“My boys done it,” Mr. Greenleaf had murmured, and then— “but all boys ain’t alike.”
“No indeed!” she had said. “I thank God for that!”
“I thank Gawd for ever-thang,” Mr. Greenleaf had drawled.
You might as well, she had thought in the fierce silence that followed; you’ve never done anything for yourself.
Today we commemorate the life of one of the greatest and most courageous missionaries in the history of the Church: St. Sucat. Sucat (who changed his name to “Patrick” some time prior to 432 A.D.) became the patron saint of Ireland for his labors in spreading the gospel through that land. By the blessing of God upon his efforts, paganism was dealt a death blow and Christianity became the dominant religion. Here are a couple of quotes which give us a sense of the man:
Sucat denouncing sun worship:
“For that sun that we behold at God’s command, rises daily for us— but it shall never reign, nor shall its splendor continue, but all even that worship it, miserable beings, shall wretchedly come to punishment. But we who believe in and adore the true sun, Jesus Christ, who will never perish, neither shall he ‘who does His will’— but shall continue forever, — as Christ continues forever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty, and with the Holy Spirit, before the ages, and now, and through all the ages of ages.”
His evangelistic confidence:
“For I am greatly a debtor to the God who has bestowed on me such grace that many people through me should be born again to God, and that everywhere clergy should be ordained for a people newly coming to the faith, whom the Lord took from the ends of the earth, as He had promised of old by His prophets: ‘To Thee the Gentiles will come and say, As our father made false idols, and there is no profit in them.’ And again: ‘I have set Thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be for salvation unto the utmost part of the earth.’ And there I am willing to await the promise of Him who never fails, as He promises in the Gospel: ‘They shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob;’ as we believe that believers shall come from all the world. . . . Therefore it is very necessary to spread out our nets, so that a copious multitude and crowd may be taken for God.”
Sucat, we salute you.
There’s always a danger in commenting on an O’Connor story. She often protested about the tendency of literary critics to see things that weren’t present; importing into her stories all sorts of symbolic meaning that she never intended. She wanted to preserve the ambiguity and mystery of her stories and never appreciated the strained efforts of English teachers to explain them (“If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable as along as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction.”). But, since I’m not a literary critic or an English teacher, I guess I’m free to make a few observations (and where I’m off-base, feel free to let me know). John Updike picked “Greenleaf” for inclusion in his Best American Short Stories of the Century so this is a good place to start.
In “Greenleaf” O’Connor draws a number of contrasts — the chief being that between Mrs. May and the Greenleafs (and especially Mrs. Greenleaf). The narrator informs us that Mrs. May thought of herself “as a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true.” Stephen Sparrow observes, “She is like those who give Christianity the same seal of approval that they extend to the Armed Forces. They’re glad each exists but have no intention of being a part of either.” On the surface Mrs. May comes across as a good woman, but for all her apparent virtue, she is in reality small-minded, small-hearted, and insufferably self-righteous. (more…)