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Archive for the ‘Flannery O’Connor’ Category

 

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The first Harry Potter novel was published twenty years ago today in the UK – June 26, 1997.  Some thoughts:

  • I’ve read most of them – I don’t think I ever actually read the last one, or if I did, I just skimmed it.
  • I read them to keep up with the cultural zeitgeist, because I had a daughter who was mad for them, and for work – I wrote about them here and there, mostly for OSV.
  • I always admired Rowling’s imaginative powers, but it became clear, as the series progressed, that the editors stepped away, in deference, I assumed, to her great popularity. The books kept getting longer and longer, with no good reason. As time went on, I found them very skimmable.
  • They’re not “great literature” by any means. The writing is flat and declarative, but you know what? She created a world, and that’s admirable and engaging.
  • I addressed the religious objections to the series at various times over the years, but never understood them. I am usually able to empathize with other points of view – it’s something that actually functions as an obstacle in my writing life, especially of opinion pieces. But I’ll admit that the religiously-based objectors to Harry Potter who saw it as a harbinger of the occult and Satanic among the young lost me.
  • But if someone didn’t want their kids reading them? I’m not going to argue with that and tell other families what to do. This time.
  • On the other hand…I was not up for embedding the Harry Potter novels in some sort of alt-canon for purposes of youth ministry and religious education. Yes, lessons can be learned, and there’s clearly an thematic element of self-sacrifice that’s central to the worldview of the novels, but putting the books at the center of religious ed lessons and sermons  is idiotic. It is possible to walk a line, balancing attention to themes that evoke a Christian ethos, without forgetting that …it’s just a kid’s book. Let’s immerse kids in Scripture and the lives of the saints, first of all. That’s priority #1.
  • Many years ago, I wrote on the series for OSV. Here’s that article. I think it holds up – it was before the fifth book came out, and I think was published in 2000. I wrote it as a “Should I let my kids read Harry Potter?” kind of piece, answering potential questions. In reading it I can see I was actually more empathetic than I remembered! Good for me!
  • (Forgive the boring formatting – it was just at the old site, and I don’t want to bother to do anything new to make it prettier.)
  • JK Rowling on Twitter is insufferable. Truly unbearable.
  • This is an interesting article on “Harry Potter and the Millenial Mind.”  It addresses, in a much deeper way, albeit a more specifically judgmental way, what I brought up in my recent post on #ReadADifferentBook.
  • To me, the Harry Potter novels were about what so much of magic-centered youth literature is about: the magic is a metaphor for the human power and potentiality. As children and young people, we slowly discover that we are not just a mass of feelings and impulses, but that we have power. Not just the proverbial and boring “gifts and talents,” either, but simply, the power to live and breathe in the world in an intentional way that impacts others.

What do we do with that power?

We can use it for good. We can use if for evil. We have to learn how to use it. We make mistakes. Every interaction we have is a manifestation of this power – of just being a person, in the world.

It’s sort of magical.

  • My 25-year old daughter is of the Harry Potter generation – the generation that was the same age as the characters in the books or at least close enough (reading kids always read ahead of their chronological age). I remember one of them came out when we first moved to Fort Wayne. Our furniture was delayed, and she was only seven years old, but I took her to the Little Professor bookstore for the midnight release party. She got the book, and stayed up most of the night reading it on the sleeping bag spread out in her empty room.
  • She and her friends loved these books, identified with the characters, and dressed up like them on Halloween and when the movies came out. She’s read all of the books multiple times – it was her habit, than when a new volume in the series or a new movie came out, she would reread them all up to the point of that volume or movie.
  • I once asked her why the books appealed to her so strongly, and she said that it was two things.  First, it was the fact that Rowling had created a complete and all-encompassing world, and she found that endlessly fascinating.  Secondly, quite simply: “Friendship.”
  • I have never understood how anyone, in their occult-fearing fevers – could miss this. Kids didn’t love the Harry Potter world because they yearned to learn how to cast spells. They loved it – loved it – aside from enjoying and being intrigued by it – because of the friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione and what it said to them about loyalty, love, community and responsibility.
  • When kids could imagine themselves in the Harry Potter universe, it’s not just because of cool, quirky magical elements, but because it would be a world in which there was danger, yes, and mystery, but at the core of that world they could see themselves, not alone anymore, not misunderstood or taken for granted, but with friends, learning important things and being brave, using their powers to do things that really matter.
  • For kids trapped in classrooms for twelve years learning mostly tedious things in tedious ways in schools that are hothouses of peer judgment, facing a life in which, they are told in subtle and not-subtle ways – what matters is what you look like and “achieve,” in which authentic community is so hard to find and nurture – that’s a vision that answers a very deep yearning, isn’t it?

My younger two sons, ages 16 and 12 now, have not been on the Harry Potter train to quite the extent as their sister was. For the reader of the two of them, the younger one, Rick Riordan fills that role in life, which is…a bit unfortunate because Rowling is a far better writer than Riordan is, and the Riordan books are actually more problematic to me than Rowling’s – the tone is just obnoxious and superficial. But he thinks they’re entertaining. And he’s also trying to read War and Peace, so I’ll let him have his snarky pagan deities.

I think the movies have played a part in their lesser interest – they saw the movies first, and so the books hold less interest for them. But they are intrigued and interested by the Harry Potter world, so to that end, followers of this blog know that we had two HP encounters over the past year:

First, at Universal Studios Florida last Thanksgiving (no, HP wasn’t the only reason we went – they wanted to go, they were heading to Florida relations for the holiday, and so it seemed like a convenient time to go. I was impressed by the HP stuff – reflected on here – but I will also admit to you that I spent some time thinking, with great satisfaction, I’m pretty sure this is the last time I am ever going to have to go to a theme park. In my whole life. Ever. 

(Meaning….my curiosity about the place was satisfied and they’re old enough now to do these things on their own…and would prefer it that way, of course.)

Then the Harry Potter studios in London, the experience of which really surprised me. I wrote about it here. It’s not just about this world. It’s about creativity in general and the power and goodness of imagination.

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  • Had a GREAT morning with the faculty of Montgomery Catholic schools yesterday. Thanks to Tom Riello for inviting me.
  • My topic was inspired partly by the occasion (teacher in-service), partly by some of my usual hobbyhorses and partly by Sunday’s Scripture readings. Basically: How to keep going and stay focused? Let Christ fill you and lead you. Well, how do we do that? By first starting with the prayer of the Church – the prayers and devotional life that have evolved over the Church’s history and the Eucharist. (Translation: Words We Pray). 
  • The Scripture passages I highlighted were:

Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.  (2 Tim 1:8)

This was from the 2nd reading on Sunday, and was the over all theme of the talk. Life is hard. Teaching is hard. We are here with what we’ve been created with (nature) and know that God promises us strength to fulfill his will (grace). How do we do that? How do we bear our share of the hardship for the gospel and where do we find God’s grace?

Abram went as the LORD directed him. (Gn. 12:4)

From the first reading from Sunday. Called by God, Abram did as the Lord directed him. This is our paradigm, as well. But how do we know in what way the Lord is directing us? We first trust that he has not left us alone to figure that out – he has left us the Church, which we believe is the Body of Christ, and the prayers, practices, spirituality and theology of which is what Jesus promised, guided by the Holy Spirit.

So we begin with prayer. The prayer of the Church – both popular traditional prayers and, of course, the Liturgy of the Hours. Paul writes that we do not know how to pray as we ought. That means, in part, that we are like Job standing in the whirlwind, understanding at last how little we understand. When our prayer begins with the prayer of the Church, we are allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit, and humbly entering into the space where we can be taught how to pray and what to pray for. We also find that we are not alone, as we join our prayers to millions who have joined their hearts to these words over the centuries.

Lord, it is good for us to be here. 

Of course, from Sunday’s Gospel, the narrative of the Transfiguration.

This part of the talk focused on the Eucharist as the source of our strength and I really emphasized the nature of humility here, as well in the other talk. I spoke of St. Francis – on the anniversary of the election of Pope Francis – and the role of humility in his spirituality. Many associate St. Francis with poverty, and rightly, so, but the fundamental type of poverty he spoke of was the poverty of Christ, expressed in Philippians 2. Francis nowhere encouraged all people everywhere to embrace voluntary material poverty. Instead, he said, and more importantly, lived, the truth that the poverty of Christ is centered on the emptying of the will, and allowing one to be totally led by the Father’s will. Bringing that attitude to Mass makes a difference, and impacts how much grace can build on our nature, to help us bear the hardship of the Gospel.

I ended with my dependable 7th grade text, and with Flannery:

Thousands and thousands of people upon the stage of life are adjusting themselves to their roles in this drama — this drama which is real life.  Old men are there and old women, youths and maidens, and even little children.  From all parts of the world they come and from all walks of life — kings and queens, merchants and laborers, teachers and students, bankers and beggars, religious of all orders, cardinals, bishops and parish priests, and leading them all the Vicar of Christ on earth.  All are quietly taking their places, for all re actors in the sublime mystery drama of our redemption.

We, too, have our own parts to play in this living drama.  And there is no rehearsal.  We begin now, on Septuagesima, following as faithfully as we can the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us particularly in the Mass and the sacraments.

Oh. I am sending you a rather garish looking book called A Short Breviary which I meant to get to you when you came into the Church but which has just come. I have a 1949 edition of it but this is a later one, supposed to be improved but I don’t think it is. Anyway, don’t think I am suggesting that you read the office every day. It’s just a good thing to know about, I say Prime in the morning and sometimes I say Compline at night but usually I don’t, But anyway I like parts of my prayers to stay the same and part to change. So many prayer books are so awful, but if you stick with the liturgy, you are safe.

And…this morning, I was all efficient and made some Chicken Cacciatore (Michael Chiarello’s recipe, doubled). More to come….

Oh, I didn’t sell all the books I had taken, so if you want some..go to the bookstore. Start thinking Easter, First Communion, Confirmation and Mother’s Day!

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Well, how about some shots and brief thoughts from doings over the past few weeks?

Maybe starting with the water pipe table at a Stuckey’s in the middle of Georgia?

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Who needs a pecan roll anyway!

— 2 —

Jump back to Our Lady of Guadalupe, almost a month ago, at a local parish.

– 3—

Then after Christmas, a trip to South Carolina.

 

— 4 —

After a day there, I ran the boys down to Florida. On the way back up to SC, I stopped in Savannah. I had been there years ago when they were just starting to work on the Flannery O’Connor childhood home, and had high hopes of being able to actually tour it this time.  But of course, it was closed. Alas!

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— 5 —

But across the square was hopping – the Cathedral. Tour buses spilling out dozens and a constant rate, not just to tour the building for its own sake, but for the large-ish (by American standards) nativity inside.  I sat in there for a while watching folks.

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“Savannah Cotton, of course,” remarked the docent.

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— 6

Over the next few days, I finished up work, baby-watched and got to know the Charleston area a bit better.

There was the day I took the baby downtown and to my great amazement found a parking place on the street right away!  A car was pulling out, and what luck for us! Victory! I’m practically a local now!

I parked, got the baby out, got the stroller out, packed up the baby, then turned to put the money in the meter…..which had a 30 minute limit.

Well, I wasn’t going to waste that stroller-wrangling time, so we made the best of it and just headed down the block, and, as it turns out, into a spot I’d never been to before, that was quite interesting.

The graveyard at the Unitarian Church. 

What makes it interesting, in addition to the normal interest that an historic  graveyard holds, is that most of it is overgrown.  The sight initially seems disrespectful, but upon reflection, I can see that a total overhaul and landscaping effort would disturb the crowded gravesites and probably upend and uproot things to a disturbing degree. The effect is, I imagine purposeful: this is life and death, effortlessly intertwined.   I’ll go back sometime, definitely.

— 7 —

 

Also…Lent!  A month from Sunday!

Time to order your parish/school materials – even if you want to order some for a group of friends or a class…here you go!

A Stations of the Cross for teens:

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Biblical Way of the Cross for everyone:

For Ave Maria press, we wrote John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross. The current edition is illustrated with paintings by Michael O’Brien.

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There’s also a digital edition in app form.

Reconciled to God – a daily devotional. Also available in an e-book format. Only .99.

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Looking for a book study for a group? How about Matthew 26-28: Jesus’ Life-Giving Death from Loyola. 

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

 

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Born in 1925, if she were still alive, she’d be 90.  And given her mother’s longevity (Regina died at the age of 99 in 1995), if lupus hadn’t taken her, she might well still be alive, indeed.

I’ve written quite a bit about Flannery over the years.  As far as I’m concerned she’s a saint and maybe even a doctor of the church, to really ramp up the hyperbole.  When I feel befuddled and know some clarity is in order, I head in one of two directions: Flannery and Ratzinger. Sometimes both.

Some posts and writings:

This one on the collection of her book reviews for the Atlanta Archdiocesan paper. 

Most of what O’Connor reviewed was non-fiction, and she did not like most of the fiction she did review – J.F. Powers, Paul Horgan and Julien Green being the unsurprising exceptions in the otherwise flowerly garden of pietistic fiction she endured.

The non-fiction choices are fascinating, although not a surprise to anyone familiar with the contents of O’Connor’s personal library and the scope of her reading we can discern from her letters. She was very concerned with the intellectual life of American Catholics and indeed saw what she was doing for the papers as in some way an act of charity in which readers might be encouraged to read beyond the pieties.

She was especially interested in Scripture, dismayed that Catholics did not read more of it, and quite interested in the Old Testament, especially the prophets. Again, perhaps not a surprise? She was, as is well-known, quite interested in Teilhard de Chardin, and reviewed a few books by Karl Barth, as well.

“The Enduring Chill” played a part in my last visit to my parents’ house after I’d sold it:

Secondly, the association of the breaking through of the Holy Ghost with coldness.  A chill. An enduring chill.  There are a number of ways to look at it,  since the “chill” is of course a reference to fever,  but  this morning I couldn’t stop thinking about Flannery’s continual argument against the modern expectation that “faith” is what brings us  contentment and satisfaction.  In the Gospel today,  Jesus says Peace be with You.  But that’s after the crucifixion, you know.

Also on Asbury’s mind- primary, really – was his mother.  How he blamed her for his own failure as a would-be artist, and how what he wanted to do most of all was make her see this.  To give her an enduring chill that would be the result of her awareness of what she had done to him.

He would hurt her, but that was just too bad.  It was what was necessary, he determined, to get her to see things as they really are. Irony, of course, comes to rest on him in the end as the Holy Ghost descends.

So I read and talked about this story about parents, children, disappointment, blame,  pride and being humbled.

Then I drove up to Knoxville, alone, thinking about Asbury, about that Holy Ghost, about peace be with you and doubt no longer.

I drove up to see my father’s house for the last time and sign the papers so someone new could live there now.

Tears?

Sadness that my father died six months ago, that my mother died eleven years ago, that my husband died three years ago. Sadness for my dad’s widow.  But then tempered, as I stood there and surveyed the surrounding houses and realized that almost every person who lived in those houses when we first moved in, is also dead.

Remembering that forty years ago, my parents were  exactly where I am now, watching the preceding generation begin to die off, absorbing their possessions, making sense of what they’d inherited – in every sense – and contemplating where to go from there.

There’s nothing unique about it.  It’s called being human. Not existing for a very long time, being alive for a few minutes, and then being dead for another very long time.

And in that short time, we try.  I’m not going to say “we try our best” because we don’t.  It’s why we ask for mercy.  Especially when we live our days under the delusion of self-sufficiency, placing our faith in ourselves and our poor, passing efforts, closed to grace…when we live like that…no, we’re not trying our best.  We need it,  that  Divine Mercy. We need it, and as Asbury has to learn, we need it to give, not just to take.  More

A summary of a session I lead on “The Displaced Person”

There is a priest in the story, the priest who brings the family (the Guizacs) to the farm, and then continues to visit Mrs. McIntyre. He is old and Irish, listens to Mrs. McIntyre’s complaints about her workers and the difficulties of her life with a nod and a raised eyebrow and then continues to talk to her about the teachings of the Church.

He is seen by the others as a doddering fool, talking about abstractions, not clued into the pressing issues of the moment, telling Mrs. McIntyre, for example, about what the Son of God has done, redeeming us,  “as if he spoke of something that had happened yesterday in town….”

And at the end, as Mrs. McIntyre watches the black figure of the priest bend over a dead man ” slipping something into the crushed man’s mouth…” we see why he spoke of it that way.

It did happen yesterday in town. It happens today.

He’s here.

The priest, too, is the only character who recognizes transcendence.  Every time he comes to the farm, he is transfixed by the peacocks (see the header on the blog today), a fascination the others think is just one more symptom of foolishness and “second childhood.”

You must be born again….

And here is the “irony.” Although steeped in Catholic faith and sensibilities, we know it is not ironic – but to the world’s eyes, it is. That the priest who expresses the mysteries in such matter-of-fact, “formulaic” ways, ways which even theologians today fret are not nuanced or postmodern enough, which they would like to dispense with in favor of…what, I am not sure, unless it is one more set of windy journal articles…this priest is, as I said, the only character who can recognize beauty and the transcendent reflected there. And the one who embodies Mercy.

Flannery O’Connor always said that she found the doctrines of the Church freeing – and this is what she means.

And the story ends:

Not many people remembered to come out to the country to see her except the old priest. He came regularly once a week with a bag of breadcrumbs and, after he had fed these to the peacock, he would come in and sit by the side of her bed and explain the doctrines of the Church.

From one of my old blogs, an account of one of my visits to Andalusia.  I need to go back.

Never read her? Another old blog post on where to start.

A couple of interviews I did with KVSS on Flannery.

And….my piece “Stalking Pride” – which I think is a decent introduction:

Robert Coles answered the question well when he wrote of O’Connor, “She is stalking pride.” For Flannery O’Connor, faith means essentially seeing the world as it is, which means through the Creator’s eyes. So lack of faith is a kind of blindness, and what brings on the refusal to embrace God’s vision — faith — is nothing but pride.

O’Connor’s characters are all afflicted by pride: Intellectual sons and daughters who live to set the world, primarily their ignorant parents, aright; social workers who neglect their own children, self-satisfied unthinking “good people” who rest easily in their own arrogance; the fiercely independent who will not submit their wills to God or anyone else if it kills them. And sometimes, it does.

The pride is so fierce, the blindness so dark, it takes an extreme event to shatter it, and here is the purpose of the violence. The violence that O’Connor’s characters experience, either as victims or as participants, shocks them into seeing that they are no better than the rest of the world, that they are poor, that they are in need of redemption, of the purifying purgatorial fire that is the breathtaking vision at the end of the story, “Revelation.”

The self-satisfied are attacked, those who fancy themselves as earthly saviors find themselves capable of great evil, intellectuals discover their ideas to be useless human constructs, and those bent on “freedom” find themselves left open to be controlled by evil.

What happens in her stories is often extreme, but O’Connor knew that the modern world’s blindness was so deeply engrained and habitual, extreme measures were required to startle us: “I am interested in making up a good case for distortion, as I am coming to believe it is the only way to make people see.”  More

flannery o'connor stamp

No, this isn’t the real one, but an imagined redesign, which I like very much.  More on that here.  

It’s ironic that a stamp issued in honor of a writer who was determined to present reality as it is – prettifies the subject to the point of making her unrecognizable. 

Everybody, as far as I am concerned, is The Poor.

-Flannery O’Connor

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