|SUNRISE, DECEMBER 21, HOPE STREET,
JUST NORTH OF OUR LADY OF THE ANGELS CATHEDRAL,
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES
Friday evening I arrived home to find a surprise gift on my doorstep: wrapped in Christmas paper, no ribbon, no card, just a little piece of paper taped on marked “Heather.”
It’s a lovely book (I opened it right away) called Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons. I hadn’t known but, before becoming a writer, Flannery was well-known at her girls’ college (Georgia State College for Women, now Georgia College and State University) as a visual artist and cartoonist.
The cartoons, though interesting, aren’t exceptional. But the foreward by Barry Moser and the commentary by O’Connor scholar Kelly Gerald are excellent and added much to my knowledge and understanding of O’Connor’s work.
Gerald’s afterword ends like this:
In a 1959 interview, O’Connor explained, “Mine is a comic art, but that does not detract from its seriousness”…For O’Connor, the deeper nature of mankind that she sounded became an expression of her faith. The anagogical vision she promoted, one that searched human experience for a more mysterious and profound spiritual meaning, applied as well to fiction. She advised other writers that “this enlarged view of the human scene” was what the writer had to cultivate “if he is ever going to write stories that have any chance of becoming a permanent part of our literature.”
The work of the artist, as she came to regard it, encompassed two of the most essential theological questions: What is the nature of the Divine? What is our relationship to it? Though the jokes still kept coming, the light-hearted and whimsical humor seen in her cartoons was often, in her fiction, drawn in more sinister tones. The journey grew darker and violent, evidence of the fallen state of humanity and the presence of evil in the world, as well as expressive of the mysteries of the Holy Spirit. The highly visual orientation of her prose took on other meanings, transforming into a language of signs and wonders. O’Connor was fond of telling people that anything that helps the writer to see helps his writing. A significant part of the experience she creates through her stories is also visual, with every reader, like the author herself, becoming a witness to the stranger truths her art reveals.
“For the writer of fiction” O’Connor observed, “everything has its testing point in the eye, and the eye is an organ that eventually involves the whole personality, and as much of the world as can be got into it.”
That’s true for the authentic human being as well. We get to develop the eye that can occasionally spy the dawn breaking over our frightened, hardened hearts; that can see God coming into the world as an exiled baby; that likes to imagine that the stranger who, in the longest night of the year, stole onto our doorstep and left an anonymous gift was perhaps Christ himself.
In fact, I never noticed before, but the root word of imagine is “magi.”
|SUNSET, DECEMBER 21, BENTON WAY
SILVER LAKE, LOS ANGELES