Sunday, May 24, 2009

Flannery O'Connor shedding light on grace

I started to read selections from "The Complete Stories" by Flannery O'Connor a couple of days ago. I had heard from several different people that her short stories were really good. And I saw Scott had started reading some of her stories as well, so that gave me the last push I needed to begin. A Good Man is Hard to Find" is the first story that I read and I believe is her most famous one. It was indeed a good story and it brought me into a world that I don't really know much about. She wrote in the 1940s and 1950s and it seems most of her stories are about the racial tension of that day.

"Revelation" is one of the stories that I just finished, also dealing with this racial tension. It's about a large white woman named Mrs. Turpin who feels very good about her lot in life. She thanks God that she has a cheery disposition, wants to help others, and that she is not black or is not white trash. After being belittled by a stranger, she rises up in anger and pride. In the midst of this, she sees a vision:
"A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away."
In that moment, Mrs. Turpin realized that her virtuous acts made no difference in heaven. The pride that she felt about being better than other people was met by the grace of God, that strips away every ounce of arrogance of those who believe they deserve to go to heaven. I'm struck by this story, because I think and act like Mrs. Turpin a lot of the time. And it's only by the grace of God that I can be humbled to realize the truth of the gospel, that I deserve only hell, but that by Christ's blood, I have been offered peace with God and true life with Him.

1 comment:

  1. I've read 400+ pages of Flannery O'Connor this year (both novels, several short stories), and while I find her intractably fascinating, I mostly don't "get" her. I feel like one of the spiritually dense ones who didn't understand Jesus' parables; I know there's something there, but mostly I just can't figure out what it is. I need an answer key or a secret decoder ring. I plan to keep reading until I find it.