Storm Chaser

THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER
Eudora Welty

“Up home we loved a good storm coming, we’d fly outdoors and run up and down to meet it,” her mother used to say. “We children would run as fast as we could go along the top of that mountain when the wind was blowing, holding our arms right open. The wilder it blew the better we liked it.”

Luke18:1

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.


RickToday is the birthday of one of my favorite writers, Eudora Welty. She was cut from Faulkner’s cloth, but was a little more accessible and significantly more sober. Born in Jackson Mississippi in 1909, she lived 92 rich years until passing away in 2001. She wrote about the South in ways only a Southerner can appreciate.

Like me, she fell in love with books before she could read them because she loved a good story.  She said

Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.

There’s power in a story, like power in a storm.  We first feel it in the air and hear its thunder in the distance.  By the time the wind and rain come, we are completely drawn in and all we want to do is sit on a porch swing and watch it fall.

Jesus understood that power.  He was a wonderful storyteller.  I love this exchange between Him and the disciples recorded in Matthew 13:10-13 (The Message) –

“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. “

Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 


 

D I G  D E E P E R


Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty

(1909–2001). The short stories and novels of Eudora Welty are normally set in a small Mississippi town that resembles her own birthplace of Jackson and the nearby Delta country. Like the work of fellow Mississippian William Faulkner, Welty’s writing takes on universal themes: the intricacy of human relationships and the qualities of character often hidden beneath a surface of insensitivity and social prejudice.

Welty was born on April 13, 1909. She was educated at the Mississippi State College for Women, the University of Wisconsin, and Columbia University’s school of advertising. She worked as a writer for a Jackson radio station and newspaper before her fiction won the praises of critics. Her first short story appeared in 1936. From then on her work appeared regularly in such journals as the Southern Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker. Her first collection, A Curtain of Green, was published in 1941. Her novels include Delta Wedding (1946), The Ponder Heart (1954), Losing Battles (1970), and The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), which won a Pulitzer prize.

What is voice?

If style is the flesh of writing, voice is its breath. “The best writing,” Peter Elbow observes, “has voice: the life and rhythms of speech.” For author Eudora Welty, “voice” is “the sound that falls on the page” as one writes and reads what one has written.  Yet when applied to writing, “voice” is a metaphor whose roots reach deep into the soil of orality. For Greek and Roman students of rhetoric whose goal was eloquence in public speaking, “style” itself was “voiced” (recall that the Latin word for style is elocutio, from which our word “elocution” comes). For contemporary writers, however, “voice” is more broadly conceived as “a composite of all the rhetorical and stylistic techniques a writer chooses, consciously or unconsciously, to use to present his or her self to an audience.” More specifically, Peter Elbow distinguishes “five senses of ‘voice’ as it is applied to writing: (1) audible voice (the sounds in a text); (2) dramatic voice (the character or implied author in a text); (3) recognizable or distinctive voice; (4) voice with authority; (5) resonant voice or presence.” All of these senses relate and resonate in that finely tuned instrument that we call the writer’s “voice.”

 

Sources & Resources

Lucretia B. Yaghjian, Writing Theology Well: A Rhetoric for Theological and Biblical Writers, Second Edition. (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 279–280.

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty appeared in 1980. The Eye of the Story (1978) is a volume of her essays. In 1984 Welty published an autobiography, One Writer’s Beginnings, based on a series of lectures. She died in Jackson on July 23, 2001.

“Welty, Eudora,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Suffering That Saves

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“Suffering is not a punishment,” Robert Ingersoll wrote, “it is a result.” Suffering, we learn as we go, is the price we pay to bring life to fullness, both for others and for ourselves. It is not to be desired in a neurotic kind of way, but it is definitely not to be denied. For when we refuse to suffer, we refuse to grow. Suffering requires us to stretch our souls to the boundaries of personal growth. It brings to the surface in us both strengths and weaknesses we could never, in any other way, know we have. It is not about surrendering ourselves to pain left devoid of meaning. It is about finding meaning in the center of the self whatever the stresses around us.

~Joan Chittister, from The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series


In Requiem For A Nun, William Faulkner wrote “The salvation of the world is in man’s suffering.”  A part of us acknowledges the wisdom of this saying as we consider the great sacrifices many have made for the betterment of others, yet we know it isn’t enough.  The noblest efforts of our greatest men cannot begin to reconcile the great gulf between us and God brought about by our rebellion.  In the end, only the suffering of Jesus can save us, and our highest aspiration is to humbly accept the gift of grace and to live a life in grateful service.

The life of Jesus is not a monument to the past; it is an invitation to the fullness of our own futures.

 

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Philippians 3:12–14

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Art: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, 1590s, Studio of El Greco

Christ kneels in the centre; at the upper left an angel appears to him with a cup, a reference to his forthcoming Passion. In the background on the left are the sleeping apostlesPeter, James the Greater and John; on the right Judas approaches with soldiers.
The painting is a synthesis of varying accounts of the Agony in the Gospels and is probably a workshop replica of a painting in the Museum of Toledo (Ohio). There are also several authentic vertical versions of this composition.
 

Literature:  There are two ways of approaching the contemporary models. Concepts such as “sacrifice”, “ransom” and “satisfaction”, that is, aids to understanding employed by biblical and ancient thought that are now no longer intelligible, can be replaced by other concepts that are clearer to modern man. Alternatively, the attempt can be made to bridge the gulf that yawns wider and wider (up to Anselm and his successors) between the person and work of Jesus and the rest of mankind, contrary to the Fathers’ original intuition of the commercium, the union of God and man through the “exchange of places”. If both attempts are taken together, it should be possible to come up with a promising new approach that would present the original theologico-historical plan in a radical (retrospective) form. This would promote the most satisfactory reflection possible on the biblical themes we have enumerated.

Looking at the history of modern times, we are inclined to doubt whether these two new paths, each of which has led to appreciable individual results, can be said to converge automatically on a synthesis (and, in any case, such a synthesis, of its very nature, cannot and must not be a “system”). In fact, the two approaches seem to be essentially opposed. The first model, which aims to provide a new set of aids to understanding centering on the idea of Jesus’ solidarity with mankind, takes its bearings primarily from his humanity and his active ministry. The second model, which wants to follow up the commercium theme in a radical way and insist on full substitution, looks primarily at the Cross as interpreted by Paul: here the full Godhead of the person of Jesus is the decisive factor.

Like the ancient and medieval worlds, the modern world is quite aware, when it comes to contemplating the mystery of Christ, that it is circling around the center of the drama in which God and man are involved. Even in the purely human drama, the two themes concern central, dramatic situations. On the one hand, we have the kind of solidarity that goes the whole way—that is, to death—as at the end of Dostoyevsky’s Idiot or in King Lear; and, on the other hand, there is the representative suffering that is found (both in its religious and in its social aspect) in Euripides, which Faulkner and Camus (Requiem for a Nun) have convincingly portrayed in our own time.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, from Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: The Action, trans. Graham Harrison, vol. 4 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 266–267.

 

The Nature of Story by Glynn Young

Glynn Young

It’s the fall of 1985. I’m sitting in a classroom at Washington University in St. Louis, participating in a seminar for my master’s degree. This particular seminar is simply entitled “The Nature of Story.”

Of all the novels on the syllabus, the only one I’ve previously read is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The syllabus includes The Sound of the Fury by William Faulkner, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, and about eight other novels. As it so happens, the first novel we’re reading for the course is One Hundred Years of Solitude. I first read it in college when it was relatively new and all the rage, about the same time as The Lord of the Rings. I’ve dutifully read it again, and it’s a completely different experience from my first reading. This time, it almost seems like personal history.

The professor leading the seminar asks, in a casual, offhand way, “So, what did you think?” A short silence follows, until one student says, “It’s a ridiculous book. All this business about flying carpets and children sprouting pigs’ tails, well, it’s simply ludicrous. This is what they call magic realism?”

It seems most of the class agrees. We’re an unusual group; I’m the youngest of about 15 people; the oldest is the CEO of the local gas utility. No one had previously read the book except for me.

The discussion becomes a critical pile-on. Finally, the professor asks, “Did anyone actually enjoy it?”

I raise my hand and nod. “I grew up in a place and culture like Macondo,” I say. “It doesn’t seem alien or ludicrous at all. My grandmother and aunts and uncles told stories like this. I know we had flying carpets. And I’m sure there must have been a few kids in my neighborhood who had pigs’ tails.”

I look around the seminar table, and I see some surprise and even astonishment.

“Where did you grow up?” the professor asks.

“New Orleans,” I say.

“Ah,” he says, nodding, “the northern edge of the Caribbean culture. That makes sense. It’s Garcia Marquez’s culture, too.”

Part of what we learn that semester about the nature of story is that story speaks to us very differently than history or sociology or economics or political science. Inherent in the idea of story is something fundamental to our understanding of who we are, where we come from, how we grow up, what we experience, and what we accept as true. A myth can be just as true as a historical fact. In fact, a myth may be more powerful than a historical fact. Story and myth are the building materials of our worldviews, and they shape us in both known and subtle ways.

I’ve read novels since I was seven years old. And now I’m writing them. When I’m asked where the idea for a novel comes from, I can usually pinpoint a moment, an event, something someone said, or even a song (a song was the inspiration for my first novel).

But none of these things explains where the story comes from. The answer to that question is far more complex. It likely goes back to that big green book of fairy tales my mother read to me. It was that ninth-grade English teacher who taught us Great Expectations and made me fall in love with Dickens. It was my grandmother who worked in a cotton factory when she was five years old. Or my other grandmother who scrubbed floors in the big movie theaters in downtown New Orleans to keep her family fed. It was my great-grandfather who was a messenger boy for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. It was Inez the Crazy Woman who roamed the streets of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans and was every mother’s threat for misbehaving children. It was the list of births and deaths in the family Bible published in 1801, and all those names like Octavia, Cora Belle, and Jarvis.

And it was those flying carpets and children with pigs’ tails.

That’s the nature, and the power, of story.

 


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Glynn Young is the author of three novelsDancing PriestA Light Shining, and the newly published Dancing King, and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He is also an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by Annie Spratt via Unsplash. Used with permission.

https://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Solitude-Harper-Perennial-Classics/dp/0060883286/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Fury-Vintage-International-ebook/dp/B004JHYRT0/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/River-Runs-through-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B06X99WMNF/ref=sr_1_1

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