Kindness

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Eleven

Tenth of December

By George Saunders

 

Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. 

~Job 6:14


Chapter Eleven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Kindness with examples drawn from George Saunders’ Tenth of December.

As Karen wrote

The connection between kindness and kinship helps make sense of the reason for envy being the vice that opposes kindness. Aquinas calls envy “sorrow for another’s good.” Unless the relationship is marred by some dysfunction, it is natural for us to celebrate a family member’s happiness or success. When something good happens to someone in our family, it is like it has happened to us. We share in that good rather than envy it. To seek and celebrate the good for others is then to treat them as family in this way. This is what it means to be kind.

If kindness is so easy and simple, why is it so lacking around us?

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Chastity

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Eight 
Ethan Frome
By Edith Wharton

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

~Matthew 5:27-28


Chapter Eight of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Chastity with examples drawn from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  All virtue is related to one’s deeds, but chastity includes the will of another.  On examination, it can be said to include the will of many.

As Karen wrote

Lauren Winner explains, “The community is not so much cop as it is storyteller, telling and retelling the foundational stories that make sense of the community’s norms.” Marriage is not only about mutual companionship and romantic love, but it is the institution “out of which cultures and societies are formed.” Marriage “is about children, and household economy, and stability. And marriage is also about God.” Marriage forms a little society. And the health of that little society depends to some degree on the health of the larger surrounding society.

Unlike abstention, an act of an individual, chastity is a form of community, and chastity depends on community. We can’t always choose where we place our roots, but when we can, it’s important to choose well. The ancient monastics took their vows of chastity within a community. Whether or not we realize it, we do as well.


What role does the community have in cultivating chastity in its members?  How can communities do a better job at this?

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Chastity

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Ethan Frome 
Chapter Eight
By Edith Wharton

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

~Matthew 5:27-28


What is lust?  Is that a silly question? It might not be as simple as you think.  Chapter Eight of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Chastity with examples drawn from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  

As Karen wrote

Ethan Frome’s lust embodies each of the kinds of lust the Bible warns against: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). David L. Allen explains that the Greek term for lust that is used in this passage carries the sense of being “hot after something,” and it denotes things sought apart from God. “Lust of the flesh” refers to the worldly desires of our corrupted human nature as opposed to the will of God. The phrase “describes what it means to live life dominated by the senses” and neglectful of spiritual things. “Lust of the eyes” refers to desires for the things we can see—whether material possessions, beautiful persons, or successful status—again, pursued apart from God’s will. It describes the condition of being consumed by outward appearances. Finally, “the pride of life,” Allen explains, “describes the arrogant spirit of self-sufficiency.”

In sum, lust of the flesh centers on temptations that originate within the body, with our inner appetites (sexual or otherwise), and lust of the eyes on temptations originating externally, with things we perceive and then desire to possess. The pride of life combines the two, appealing to the internal desire to be like God and seeking fulfillment of this through external shows of power. Each of these lusts is at work in Ethan. His story depicts how chastity involves the whole person and, within the context of a marriage, every aspect of the marriage: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

How do the various kinds of lusts work against chastity, both in Ethan Frome and in real life?

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