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I created this talk for Benedictine College’s Symposium on the New Evangelization. It’s about the role art can play in helping us realize our ideals of virtue and holiness. I linked G.K. Chesterton, his character Innocent Smith (from Manalive) and St. Francis of Assisi to show how Chesterton wove the things he loved most about St. Francis into his character, and thus drew all that joy and abandonment to God a bit closer to himself and his readers.
Quoting Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis, his own biography and autobiography, Manalive, and Orthodoxy, I moved back and forth between the character and the saint, the ideal and the imaginative realization, to suggest that we need such imaginative bridges to move toward full appropriation of supernatural joy, toward holiness. That art may serve to help us realize ourselves more wholly, more fully without any violation of the art, the ideal, or of our own being suggests that Catholics would do well to enter in to the work of creating stories, poems, paintings, and other works with the goal of becoming saints in the process.
Thanks to Anna Duran and the Catholic Education Resource Center and Crisis magazine for these reflections from Mitchell Kalpakgian on Louisa May Alcott’s Plumfield as a great model for educators. I’m pretty sure I’m a home educator because of Louisa . [Read more…]
I consider Mystery and Manners must reading! I have discussed different aspects of this work with parent educators, spiritual seekers, the Catholic Creatives Salon, and as a book study overview. It is a rich source of insight into the life of the artist, of the human person, and into literature’s capacity to be a vessel for truth. Everything Flannery (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis now) says about approaching a book is a lesson about how to approach other forms, people, created things.
Souls at Work continues the discussion of the way we approach form, art, people and creation. I’m sure it couldn’t have been written without my understanding of the difference between art and propaganda. If you get nothing else from Mystery and Manners, you’ll be way ahead of most readers just by avoiding flat, simplistic, propagandistic literature in which characters and story are used as vehicles for Truth Delivery and have no life or truth in themselves.
What we think about literature matters deeply, as it reflects what we think of ourselves as creations of a divine Author in stories that have an eternal trajectory. We live and move and have our being within the greatest story ever told, yet what do we understand of story, character, dramatic necessity, truth in art, and of the incarnation of Truth in lowly, concrete forms?
I suggest to potential writers, to teachers of literature, and to anyone who reads stories that they will improve their understanding of story itself, and of their own task as artists, audience, or teacher, by reading Mystery and Manners. As Flannery teaches us about the art of storytelling, she touches on such themes as the operation of grace, free will and determinism, maimed souls and broken personalities, and the responsibilities of one who would communicate Christ to others. All this, and my favorite quote has nothing directly to do with any of it!
Describing the cry of the peacock, which most people would think awful to hear, she says, “To me it has always sounded like a cheer for an invisible parade.” To me, that speaks volumes about her own capacity to receive mystery through sometimes ‘grotesque’ form.