Bruner’s Subversive Gospel of Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor is a force of fiction not to be ignored. Some Catholics want her to be sainted. In a way, I understand. She teaches us to see the world with different eyes. She exposes the hypocrisy that is within all of us and our own illusions of ourselves and our perceptions of others. She also helps us see the world sacramentally, despite the violent and sinful nature of the people in this world. Her stories are quite violent and the seemingly good characters are the ones who are attacked, wounded or killed, which opens grace in their lives.
In Michael Mears Bruner’s book, A Subversive Gospel Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth, he illuminates the theological depth of her short stories and her final novel: The Violent Bear it Away. Bruner argues that modern Catholic scholar Baron von Hugal was a major influence to O’Connor that O’Connor scholars seem to have missed. Von Hugal talks about the speed of mercy. Bruner comments, “what he means by the speed of mercy is that mercy burns up what we are attached to, the word is a burning word to burn you clean.” Flannery O’Connor’s point in most of her stories is a purgation. To be knocked on the head (literally) with God’s mercy. Her stories are a wake up call to the nihilism and sentimentalism of this world and awaking us to Jesus Christ himself the dangerous tiger that Blake describes or the good lion, but who is not tame that C. S. Lewis describes.
O’Connor has a deeply moral and divine point in writing her stories. They are to shock the reader into realizing that grace isn’t a theoretical vague happening, but sometimes something that knocks us down, at times violently. That the world is saturated with God. O’Connor is a wake up call to our indifference and niceness and our turning church into a sentimental thing, something nice to think about, but not affect how we live or act. Flannery was deeply devoted to her faith, to Jesus Christ. Her mission was to show that the world is dangerous and harmful, yet God works through these things that nearly destroy us, God has a way of transfiguring us and most of the time it is painful.
Augustine knew this well. In his Confessions he spoke of the pain he felt when God was transforming him and needed to take the things he held on to so tightly. Purgation is not a pleasant thing, but it is a good thing. God is about our goodness; our aim is goodness.

“O’Connor’s central theological convictions… that redemption is hard because life is hard, and life is hard because we are sinners who resist redemption with every fiber of our being… Those who follow Christ are called to follow not merely in his light but in the shadow of that light, and for those who follow more closely, that shadow looms large and dark. … her stories were not fed by … anger … but were wrought … of the exacting severity of God’s divine love… …it is the shadow of grace they walk in… O’Connor’s stories are a fictional rendering of ‘the terrible speed of mercy’.”

As Michael Bruner elucidates, O’Conner’s stories are shocking because the gospel is shocking.
Bruner’s A Subversive Gospel is an important book in understanding Flannery O’Connor’s stories. Bruner helps illuminate grace in a hard world. Flannery O’Connor is certainly one of the most important writers in American Literature.

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December 2nd: two images

Colony of bees

grumpy on cloudy day

fifty pounds honey stored

survive dark winter– sweet honeycomb

each bee

humility– its place, purpose known.

 

Advent candle burns

awaiting His return–

love incarnate.

Hive of humanity disordered.

Bloody host raised

becalming, calling

us to His cross–

His humility–

His saving grace.

bullet

speed of mercy*

a bullet

splitting through

self-deception and complacency.

Sentimental and decorous language need not apply.

Christ the Tyger, Tyger burning bright**

severity of God’s divine love.

Gentle Jesus, a farce.

 

With all of our being, we resist redemption

and hope for the best.

But the bullet of grace is what turns our ways.

The prophetic speech, God’s burning love shot through

to turn our stubborn sensibilities

as we walk through the valley of death

where dragons line the roads threatening to devour.

In the eleventh hour,

through suffering, we turn back

God’s face shining, facing us.

Our heart abandoned, but He never left.

The haunting shadow eternally present.

Leading us toward teleological shalom.

 

* phrase from Baron von Hugal

** from William Blake

love

The cheap word

definition unknown.

The elusive meaning

no one knows what it means anymore.

Except as a feeling.

If English only had multiple words for “love”

like the Greeks.

Then we might know what it means.

God is love.

What is that?

Love is God?

I don’t think so,

but we like to define things simply like that not knowing what it even means.

One or the other…

can’t imagine more meanings. Two is enough.

A world of dichotomies, dualities. Things split in two.

More manageable.

But things are complex, people complex.

Love doesn’t define one thing. Not in vagueries.

But One will help you see what love means.

To the cross the eyes gaze,

seeing sacrament in all things, the natural.

Lesser loves and greater loves. The greatest love died,

to rise again raising all lesser things with–

ascending to the celestial rose, the spheres in harmony

God the center moving all the world with

divine love that is the ground of our being.

 

Our cheap understanding will not endure.

Love only makes sense with teleological hope and Christ’s faith though.

 

beauty of words

Heart aflame

by words not my own

by better writers

and thinkers

and enacters of the Word.

Beauty of words

that point toward Truth and Goodness

burns a longing within.

What to do with this longing …

Yearning to learn as long as I live

learning a purpose that teaches me to live

even keeping me alive.

The saints: ones who pass on their wisdom that is ever being–

Help me to pass on Your wisdom through beauty of word and helping others see You.

Though wretch I am.

My dad on All Souls Day

 

” Every lament is a love song” Jon Foreman

This day ten years ago my dad died. In one sense, it’s a good day– All Souls commemorating all who have died and who await the resurrection and culmination of all things when God is all in all– complete union as it was before the Fall. That is the Christian hope. Reunion with one another in eternity and complete connection with God which began with Jesus Christ in history and in his resurrection. God’s love culminated– renewing all things– people, earth, the cosmos– ALL.

Nonetheless, my dad died this day after a long battle with cancer. A fine friend of mine posted something about “what you have learned from your dad or what he does well… something like that”. I said he taught me to be adventurous. My dad worked hard and played hard– you only hear that in America. He was an adventurer and a fighter. A builder, planner, artist– architecturally and with landscape. He was very ordered, almost OCD or possibly was OCD. He was highly accomplished and enjoyed the quiet life. He had a highly stressful job, but would take time on the weekends to landscape, do lawn work, fix anything around the house, refinish floors, bathrooms, garages. He loved to take drives in the country, where we lived.

He loved exploring other parts of the country: Maine, New York, New England, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho. He loved the west, Wild Bill Cody, Native American history, Civil War history. He loved boats: sail boats or power boats. He loved fly fishing.

When we were in Colorado in 1999–a gift before I went off to college– we climbed Pikes Peak where I got a bloody nose and we joked he punched me out. But it was foggy so we couldn’t see anything down below, but my body knew we were high up. We drove around 90 percent of the state. Seeing the Anasazi ruins, Rocky Mountain National Park, going white river rafting, horse back riding, seeing the Olympic Park at Colorado Springs. Taking a four hour train ride up to Durango. It was fun at first, but after an hour we were bored. Then we ended up driving to that town again. It was neat riding up a mountain on a steam powered train though. We saw old silver mines. We drove to Denver one evening and had dinner outside. It was the calmest city I had ever been to and I could calmly parallel park in a city– first time for that. We saw a lot and drove a lot. It was great.

We went to Maine and rented a boat and took it out in the ocean and slalomed lobster trap buoys. We weren’t supposed to, but we did. What a New Jersey move. And we hit a wave and got air for a few seconds. It was great. And took the boat to Bar Harbor even though we weren’t supposed to and saw pink dolphins there. It was worth it. My dad would always let me drive a boat though I didn’t have the license. Fun stuff.

Montana was great. We went to Yellowstone National Park. That was an adventure. We drove a lot. And walked around where the geysers were and took a lot of beautiful pictures. Dad fished in the Snake River. We went to the Teton Mountains. It was breathtaking. We saw Elk, Grizzly bears, Moose and Buffalo. There’s a lot I remember from that trip. But won’t expand much.

My sister and I did a lot with our parents and were exposed to a lot of great stuff. A good education, NYC trips: museums, my dad set up a behind the scenes visit to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum when they were renovating and it wasn’t open to the public. Plays, musicals, restaurants, orchestra, baseball games, Army, Navy games, the Nets. My dad knew a lot of people and had great benefits from his company and clients. He knew how to live well and did it.

When he was sick, it was disheartening (a soft word, it was terrible) to see him degenerate. A man who loved to run, build, bike, travel, navigate a boat, was bound to the couch and a power chair in the last few years of his life. A man who fought like hell to stay alive, although miserable toward the end.

His fragile body fought against him. Life is movement. Death is stillness. Throughout it all, even in the worst times, he kept his humor about him. Humor buoys us in the darkest times. He never lost his sense of humor.

I got my sense of humor from both of my parents. I got the adventure spirit and driving a lot from my dad. But also the Connor side. I’m somewhat handy, but also lazy. I do love water: rivers, oceans, etc. but I don’t like to fish. I do like to hunt and went with my dad often. He was good about trusting me with boats, vehicles and guns. That was a good masculine rite of passage for me.

We did butt heads on a lot of things. But after he died, there was a point where I think we would have been on the same page about almost everything and I would have asked for advice on a lot of things. We didn’t communicate well; it wasn’t until I was 30 that we probably would have a little better, but it was too late by then.

We await the Kingdom of God that has come, but is not yet. We are in the “not yet.” There is still death, and sin, and despair. But there is goodness, and love, and joy and life. God is the Good; he has a plan– our endpoint, our telos is the culmination of all things to be in union with God– the Father, Son and Spirit, where there is no death, pain, disease, sin– only the Good. A world, a kingdom much like what we know, in that the cosmos and earth will be here, but only renewed and perfected– us too. In the meantime, I miss my dad and those who have passed.

Thank God for the communion of saints and the hope of all things new.

Importance of the body

The body is important; you will see this in some funeral liturgies. What always strikes me at Catholic or other sacramental church funeral liturgies is the emphasis of the body. As Christians (sometimes), we forget about the importance of the body. We are creatures created by God who are mind, body, spirit, emotion, making a complete soul. We are complex creatures. One isn’t separate or better thanĀ  the other; they are all part of the being called human. We are bodies and souls; we don’t merely have them or possess them.

Why do we forget about the importance of the body? I think because we are moderns who have been influenced too much by Descartes with his emphasis on the mind–we as thinking things who happen to have bodies. Buddhism’s influence may be another reason. We think when we die that we are separated from the body eternally; and are a type of ghost forever. But sometimes it is forgotten that the Creed says “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Every Christian denomination has the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed as the basis of their faith.

In pop culture, in movies, literature even in ancient pagan works such as the Odyssey talk about shades or ghosts. But every time they are portrayed they have the semblance of the body– their form is still in the shape of the former body though they are apparitions. This points toward the reality that the semblance of the body still has meaning and is incomplete without the material, physical body itself.

The danger of thinking that we are disembodied for eternity is to view the body as evil. Christian teaching says that all God created was good; he made no mistake. The body is not a mistake or evil. Our will strays from the goodness of God and His will, therefore causing pain and disorder and death. In the beginning we chose death and that is the consequence.

But we must remember, Jesus Christ was fully human (also fully divine). He had a body, it was not an apparition or wax body or somewhat of a body. He has a fully formed human body. Through His incarnation, he redeemed the whole human person. He is the way and the truth and the life because he is the only perfected human person. He is our model to follow and imitate.

In the funeral liturgy, the coffin is draped with the white cloth representing being clothed in Christ. The paschal candle is lit representing Christ and his resurrection reminding us that one day too we will rise again in our body (or a new body as some translate this). Symbols in a mass or service or liturgy are not empty and meaningless; they point to the reality of things. Things that were, are, will be. When we are in Christ, we become more like Him, by His grace and mercy. It is an act of our will. Because God loved us first, he wishes us to choose Him and become more like him moment by moment; day by day.

There is a reason that there are statues and images of Christ and the saints and Mary. They are a living reality. They are human and glorified in Christ. They are not apparitions (the question is do they have their physical body now? or will it be received on the Last Day– the end point of history). Nonetheless, the whole human body and soul, the full person lives continually. (Either in union with God or in perdition).

Finally, in the funeral the coffin is incensed. Like other high Masses, the censer will incense each person serving (the priest, deacon, acolytes) and then the congregation. This is an honor to the human person. For each person is an icon of Christ– created good bearing the image of God– some desert fathers have described the human person as having angels going before each person (singing God’s praise) because of this divine image within each person. We are not mere mortals as C. S. Lewis has said; besides the Eucharist, the person next to you is the holiest thing you have encountered. (But again we live on that knife edge of choosing God, aiming toward God or lesser things– we live in tension on this earth).

Remember, the body is important. It is not to be cast aside as trash. What God has made is good. Let us strive toward Him — who is Good, Truth, Beauty itself. We will have physical bodies once again one day. Jesus Christ went before us and was resurrected and in physical form. We too will be like Him at the resurrection.

(For more read Augustine’s Confessions, Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, Flannery O’Connor, James K. A. Smith, Walker Percy, Graham Greene to mention a few).