Just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned I say the Lord’s Prayer every day. This morning I burped after praying “for thine is the kingdom.” I immediately apologized (to God) and went on, “and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
But then I thought better of the apology. This is the way God made us, to burp and to fart and to do all those things we’d rather not do or say in God’s presence, let alone talk and write about them!
Yet, choosing an alternative to the scary book I wrote about last week, I had just been reading a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s spiritual writings, bristling a little at her insistence on traditional Christianity, while intrigued by her notion of the importance of belief in writing fiction, in an excerpt from “Novelist and Believer” (1963). So I reviewed what I had underlined, “this physical, sensible world is good because it proceeds from a divine source.”
Could this Southern Roman Catholic lady living in rural Georgia have felt the same way about my burp during prayer, especially our Lord’s prayer? I daresay she’d join Gone With The Wind’s mammy, saying of Scarlett’s unladylike behavior, “Tain’t fittin’. Just tain’t fittin’.”
Then I re-read the paragraph in which I had only underlined the above phrase. She starts with St. Augustine’s notion that God is poured out in the world in two ways: intellectually and physically:
To the person who believes this—as the western world did up until a few centuries ago—this physical, sensible world is good because it proceeds from a divine source. The artist usually knows this by instinct; his senses, which are used to penetrating the concrete, tell him so. When [Joseph] Conrad said that his aim as an artist was to render the highest possible justice to the visible universe, he was speaking with the novelist’s surest instinct. The artist penetrates the concrete world in order to find at its depths the image of its source, the image of ultimate reality. This in no way hinders his perception of evil but rather sharpens it, for only when the natural world is seen as good does evil become intelligible as a destructive force and a necessary result of our freedom.
O’Connor fears “that religion will suffer the ultimate degradation and become, for a little time, fashionable,” reminding me of the first monastics escaping into the deserts to pray, wary of the popularization of Christianity in the Roman Empire of Constantine.
She then affirms, “Where there is no belief in the soul, there is very little drama.” Despite this serious assertion, she adds, “it is well to realize that the maximum amount of seriousness admits the maximum amount of comedy.”
Perhaps this allows my burp after praying “for thine is the kingdom”—a little comic relief to my earnestness.
This past Sunday, asked to speak about generosity to a congregation, I began by asking them which person they felt most relaxed around, inviting them to name the characteristic of the person that made that possible. For me, I feel most comfortable with someone who has a generosity of spirit, a graciousness that sees my “divine source,” my “soul,” even as I burp and fart.
In memory of Pam Byers, one of those easy-to-be-with friends and colleagues.
Today is the 75th anniversary of my late parents’ wedding.
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