Friday, March 16, 2012

The Crux of the Matter

One of the most salient features of Flannery O'Connor's fiction is the centrality of religious themes. However, this is a stumbling block for some folks who otherwise have a great appreciation f0r O'Connor's art. How, they ask, can anyone with a mind as sophisticated as Flannery's believe (in the words of Mark Twain) "something you know ain't true?" One person who may well have wrestled with this question was her good friend, Louise Abbot. In the following excerpts from an undated letter of 1959, O'Connor describes faith as being something more than intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It is, rather, a path of trust that necessarily entails suffering, even suffering with our doubts:
"I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child's faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.
What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can't believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God. . . ."
"Whatever you do anyway, remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn't be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself. . . ."
"I don't set myself up to give spiritual advice but all I would like you to know is that I sympathize and I suffer this way myself. When we get our spiritual house in order, we'll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don't expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty. . . ." (The Habit of Being pp. 353-54)
- Mark

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