The Calling of Christian Writers
- Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Writers must learn, "to be humble in the face of what-is," O'Connor argued. They must understand that concrete reality—the things we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch—are the only clay a novelist can mold. They aren't to persuade with argument or develop abstract theories or disguise essays in the garb of story. Rather, they're to create characters, invent action and dialog, and concoct settings that look a lot like the places we know. If the novelist's work is to ever transcend the here-and-now, O'Connor said, it must be firmly rooted in it.
O'Connor griped that Christian writers tended to be concerned with "unfleshed ideas and emotions." They're reformers, she complained, who "… are possessed not by a story but by the bare bones of some abstract notion. They are conscious of problems, not of people, of questions and issues, not of the texture of existence, …of everything that has a sociological smack, instead of with all those concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position on earth."
That mystery, underscored for her by life in the "Christ-haunted South," was the theme she couldn't escape. The Christian writer, O'Connor explained, perceives life from the "standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that is has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for." This, she knew—when understood and applied—expanded the writer's vision. It inspired investigation. It meant that nothing is off limits. And that everything—regardless of how common—matters.
O'Connor—because she was a Christian, because she was concerned about her vocation, and because she knew the world and the Church looked on warily—cared about quality. A Christian's novel, she said, must be "complete and self-sufficient and impregnable in [its] own right." When told that good Catholics, because they were responsible for proclaiming the gospel, couldn't also be good artists, she replied "ruefully" that, "because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist."
An Imagination Sent Soaring by the Gospel
C.S. Lewis, a contemporary of O'Connor's, was as a gritty a realist as she was. And yet our neighbors—practically all of them, regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliation—love his fantasy. The genre might have been his natural, literary inclination. George Sayer, in his biography Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, notes that Lewis's most "precious moments" were when he was aware of the supernatural's intrusion into the workaday world. "His success in translating these moments into his fairy stories gives [The Chronicles of Narnia] a haunting appeal," Sayer wrote, providing readers with "a taste of the other."
When Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, he had no theological agenda. There was no ulterior, evangelistic motive; he simply hoped to create likable stories. But the man's worldview was as elemental to him as blood and bone. And his characters, plots, symbols, and themes are—unavoidably—products of it. Which explains why, in The Magician's Nephew, we see the story of Creation (Aslan sings it into creation). We see temptation in the Garden and the Fall. And in the story that followed, death, judgment, Hell, and Heaven all enter the pages of Lewis's fantasy.
Lewis wasn't smuggling Christian theology into the minds of young readers, it just seeped through; it poured out of the man and onto the page, likely causing the claims of Christianity to ring true when readers later met them.
Lewis, of course, wrote theological classics: Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, The Problem of Pain, Til We Have Faces, The Weight of Glory... Yet, his biographer says, it was the Narnia stories—the fantasies that our un-believing neighbors love—that most clearly reveal Lewis's theology. The character of Aslan—the Lion who is known to nearly every kid on every block of the English-speaking world—is, George Sayer says, Lewis's supreme achievement.
Recently on Spiritual Life
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content