The Complete Stories Of Flannery O’Connor

Still chugging along with my resolution not to buy, borrow, or bum any more books until I read all of those I currently own – I’ve recently started a book I’ve been meaning to read for the three decades or so it’s been in my possession. The Complete Stories Of Flannery O’Connor. I selected this next book to read as I’m also trying to read more writer’s of faith, and O’Connor definitely qualifies. Thus far I’ve loved everything I’ve read. Her stories are oozing with peculiar-seeming, haloed saints, danger and awkwardness. In fact, the word grotesque has been used quite often to describe some of O’Connor’s stories and characterizations. Flannery O’Connor describes the use of the grotesque as “the good under construction,” a description that I really like – even as a metaphor for my own life! Her stories so far dramatize moments of crisis that can catch people offguard, leaving them in perilous and clumsy positions – moments when grace can intervene.

Flannery O’Connor

Being a man born and raised in the tobacco belt of the Deep South; her characterizations, syntax, and vocabulary were all very familiar to me and my southern senses. The subjects of racism, religion, and violent reality leak through her stories like water. She once said of her stories that, “I’ve found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moments of grace.” O’Connor may not be for those who are hyper-sensitive in this day and age of political correctness and identity politics. Her writing is startling and disturbing in it’s movements toward grace, conversion, and prophesy, but I also found them strangely comforting as they inject absolute love into a sinful, fallen, and distorted world. While reading O’Connor’s works I found these questions to ponder important.
1 – What is the value of the grotesque and violent as O’Connor uses these features? How do they affirm grace and love?
2 – What is the difference between sensationalism and O’Connor’s use of unpleasant and repulsive material?
3 – How would one of faith defend her writing against the accusation that it is too dark?

I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by telling you what I think the answers to these questions are. You are all wearing your big boy and big girl pants, so I’ll let you decide for yourselves. Should you wish to read any of Flannery O’Connor’s works, they are readily available for free online, or better yet, buy a real book and support those small businesses who are now struggling financially.

Mary Flannery O'Connor - March 25 1925 - August 3 1964. 
Savannah, Georgia

Reading Is An Exercise In Listening And Learning

As a Christian, I’ve been thinking lately more and more about what I read and why I read. Some of the books I read are certainly not what one would call moral and upright. There’s violence, murder, incest, drunkenness, adultery, lying and theft. . . that’s just from Shakespeare! It’s been said that observation elicits emulation, and I think there is something to that statement. We also live in a sinful, fallen world…we ourselves are part of it so conversely, we indeed need to recognize evil to reject it. These are the two main debates on reading well. They stand ceaselessly at odds. The answer to all of these weighty questions are of course NOT so obvious, they are murky at best. So while I’ll admit that ‘I don’t know’ all of life’s answers to reading as a dedicated Christian, I’ll make my good-faith effort to learn what the author of each book I read is trying to say without judging the state of the author’s soul. I will read each book open to the possibility that I will find something valuable to carry with me as I grow older. I will also read knowing that ALL truth is from God. I leave you with a quote from a man I have admired over the years, even moreso now as I age faster and faster with each new year it seems.

A student who does not want his labor wasted must so read and reread some good writer so that the author is changed, as it were, into his flesh and blood. For a great variety of reading confuses and does not teach. It makes the student like a man who dwells everywhere and, therefore, nowhere in particular. Just as we do not daily enjoy the society of every one of our friends but only that of a chosen few, so it should also be in our studying.

–Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, comp. Ewald M. Plass
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), entry no. 344, 112.

How I Read Book Tag

I borrowed/copied this from my friend Ruth at A Great Book Study.

Reading Ethan Frome on the lanai!

Do you have a certain place at home for reading?
Yes, I really like to read out on the back lanai unless it’s just too hot, then I mostly read in my recliner in the living room.

Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter or a certain number of pages?
I can stop reading anywhere. I do make every effort to finish the sentence first, which isn’t always probable with four kids still living at home, especially if they’re fighting! 🙂

Bookmark or random piece of paper?
Anything really – recently I used my sock while I went to the toidy 🙂

Multitasking: music or t.v. while reading?
Nothing at all, I have to have complete quiet in order to concentrate or recall what I’ve read.

Do you eat or drink while reading?
I’ve done both, but I don’t usually. Plus, I prefer a real book as opposed to an e-reader, and I don’t like smudges or stains in my books. I’m one of THOSE people!

Reading at home or everywhere?
Mostly at home, as I stated earlier, I need peace and quiet with no distractions.

One book at a time or several at once?
I’m a one book at a time kind of man. If I have multiple books going at the same time, when I go back to reading the book I left off from, I don’t remember what was happening and must go back a few pages or even re-read the chapter again. I’m not that tolerant or accommodating.

Reading out loud or silently in your head?
Silently, unless I can’t figure out what I’ve just read, then I stand up and read aloud until I get it. (duh) Breathing sounds are also permitted 🙂

Do you read ahead or even skip pages?
Yep, I’ve skipped an entire chapter when I was bored to tears. I will say though that I never read ahead or read the last page or anything that drastic. Although I must read the flaps before I start a book!

Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?
I try to keep the book like new.

Do you write in your books?
Heavens NO! – Isn’t that like misdemeanor vandalism/graffiti/defacing or something akin? I don’t even mark in my many Bibles and I have several editions of the same translation. I use sticky notes, 3X5 cards, or small note pads for jotting things down.

Whom do you tag?
No one, but if you leave your URL in a comment I’ll be sure and check it out. 

Murder in the Cathedral

In my ongoing effort not to buy, borrow, or bum any more books until I read all of those I currently own, I finished this little gem Saturday. Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot is a play in verse about the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral. Caught up in one of the perennial conflicts between priest and king, this narrative opens in the Archbishop’s Hall on December 2nd, 1170. A Chorus, consisting of women of Canterbury gather at the cathedral with some premonition of a dreadful event to come. They reminisce on their suffering as they reflect upon their archbishop, Thomas Becket. He has been in exile from England for seven years after a disastrous clash with King Henry II. The women worry that his return from France could make their lives more difficult by angering the king further. Upon his return to England, four persuasive tempters try to prevent him from re-assuming his role as archbishop. They remind him of the power and influence he held as Lord Chancellor to Henry II prior to his religious ordination.

Archbishop Thomas Becket was honored and venerated as saint and martyr by both the Catholic and Anglican church for defending the Church against the encroachments and infringements of the State. Eliot explores Becket’s murder from this perspective. In this short play Eliot shows his mastery of the British form of Church and State. In so doing, he sends a message that those who do not practice justice shall some day receive vengeance. This book was totally different than those I normally read. At first I was out of my comfort zone, but in the end, I really enjoyed this short work. It provoked me to think deeply and honestly about my faith. Eliot is indeed a master wordsmith, and I enjoyed the style, the language, and the imagery. I know that most will not enjoy a dramatization in verse, but I found it teeming with. . .  drama.

A few of my favorite quotes from the play:

“Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen.”

“The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

“In life there is not time to grieve long
But this, this is out of life, this is out of time,
An instant eternity of evil and wrong.”

“Servant of God has chance of greater sin
And sorrow, than the man who serves a king.
For those who serve the greater cause may make the cause serve them,
Still doing right: and striving with political men
May make that cause political, not by what they do
But by what they are.”

Although I found the demeanor of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in this narration to be courageous- regretfully, I found it to also be self serving and prideful. The Apostles of Christ; Paul, John, Peter, etc… were put to death (martyred) because of their refusal to deny Jesus as Savior and King. In my opinion, this is a completely different animal that we see in Murder In The Cathedral – but you be the judge and read it for free here at INTERNET ARCHIVE.

Publisher: Mariner Books. March 1964.
Page Count: 96

It’s The Small Things

You know how it is don’t you? Whether the sky outside is bright and sunny or soggy and sullen, it can be dull and gray inside your heart. But then something happens; something as small as finding that your child has made you a surprise out of Legos, or walking through the scent of fresh cut grass, or stepping out your back door into a sudden sunrise…and then the gray goes away. That’s why I like this short poem.

Dust of Snow:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood,
And saved some part
Of a day I rued.
Robert Frost

The bird you see above is a Red-tailed Hawk rather than a crow, but it insisted on posing for this blog post. This hawk and several other birds of prey appear almost daily on my fence. They seem to take much pleasure snagging and eating the many reptiles that inhabit my yard.

Original photo. Florida 2020

A Light On A Hill

I’ve always had a fascination for lighthouses, especially those of my childhood along the Southeast coast of the U.S. – If they could talk, I imagine they’d spin salty yarns of ships, storms, and marauding pirates forever lost in the sea’s black abyss. My interest piqued when as a lad in grammar school I read about one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the famous Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt. It’s the first lighthouse ever recorded in history and built by Ptolemy in the 3rd century.

Lighthouses still illicit piratical adventure for me; but more often than not, they’ve become an old world analogy illustrating a principle. Historically lighthouses have pierced the dangerous darkness of the ocean’s night to safely guide sailors on their passage. They stand immovable, faithfully beaming their resplendent light, identifying treacherous coastlines, unforeseen shoals, and securely leading trusting vessels to the protection of the harbor.

Like a lighthouse, God’s Word warns us of the dangers we face on this pilgrimage of life. It protects us against error, the wiles and schemes of the evil one, and gives us an alternative to the devastating consequences of a life lived without Christ. The Bible will continue to be the Christian’s beacon. It will faithfully and truthfully guide us until we land safely on heaven’s shore.

I decided after a lifetime of enchantment with them to try my hand at painting one. Here is the completed and framed work. It’s currently enjoying a wall in our living room right above my bookcase and Lazy-Boy.

Thy word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 199:11

Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Winsor & Newton watercolors, 9"x12" - self-framed

May’s Advice – A Poem

Dive headlong into summer.
Spring has become saturated
with too many memories – let them go
I’m telling you.
It doesn’t pay
to hold onto full things.
Maybe May will be the month
that lives up to its name – short and sweet,
sucking the nectar out of the flowers
and painting sunshine onto our hearts.

Original verse and photograph
© Peninsula Journal