Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sacraments, Fiction, and Miracles

As someone who appreciates Christian aesthetics and the arts in general, I was intrigued by an essay by Peter Leithart titled "Why Evangelicals Can't Write."

In a nutshell, it's the fault of Huldreich Zwingli (and more here) and the Marburg colloquy

Leithart goes on at some length about Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor and her writing (and if you're not familiar with O'Connor, you should be!). According to Leithart, O'Connor's Catholic theology informs her literature in a way that less liturgical evangelical (aka Zwinglian) theology can't begin to understand. Leithart even refers to her writing as "sacramental." Here's a sample:

[Flannery] O'Connor illustrates as well as anyone the importance of sacramental theology to Christian fiction. She was a deeply sacramental writer, and her stories often turn on sacramental events. Extreme unction plays an important role in "The Enduring Chill," and in "The Lame Shall Enter First" Rufus Johnson eats a prophetic Eucharist when he chews and swallows pages of a Bible.

Sacraments are sometimes hard to recognize in O'Connor's cartoonishly exaggerated universe. Epiphanies of grace tear into her characters' lives through the goring horn of a bull, tractors crashing into trees, the bullet from an escaped convict's gun. The exaggeration and distortion is deliberate. In one of her most often quoted statements, O'Connor spoke of her need to shout and draw large figures for her blind-and-deaf audience: "When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures."

I read O'Connor's words and I have to wonder: Is this the reason that Jesus performed miracles? To shock, to "draw large and startling figures," very simply, to get the attention of people who were too deaf and blind to "get it" any other way?

I pray that we never become so deaf and blind as a society that we need those sorts of shocking images and miracles. May our knowledge of Christ—our relationship with Him and our worldview based on Him & His word—keep us sighted and hearing!

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