Saturday, August 31, 2019

Sin in Storytelling

Last year I joined a local chapter of the national book club titled Well-Read Moms. (Disclaimer: I am not a literal mom, but I like to believe I live out the charism of spiritual motherhood through my students and my choir.)

 The club has been a really positive experience, and the books we read last year were enjoyable and edifying -- even Charles Dickens' Hard Times and George Eliot's Middlemarch... which I am still slogging through... but I digress. 

We are currently gearing up for the first book of the new year, a one-act play by Margaret Edson titled Wit (or W;t, depending on what edition you are reading). However, as we begin to delve into the work, one of the mothers in the group posited the following question: 

"In the play 'Wit', a character uses the phrase G--D--- several times. The character is not a Christian. One mother feels that Wit should not have been chosen since it takes the name of the Lord in vain. Her thought was that as a group for busy moms, the organizers of the club should have had a higher standard and found a different work on the same topic. What do you think?"

I was immediately reminded of the criticism that Flannery O'Connor received for her short stories. Although most of these stories are violent as well as dark, she always includes a moment of grace to which the main character must respond in some way, shape, or form. The main character may choose to reject this moment of grace, but it is there for the taking. 

Flannery O'Connor, 1925-1964.

Flannery O'Connor's stories portray the true order of the universe, for where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. God is ever reaching out to the human person in love, offering them moments to repent and to believe in the Gospel. At the Incarnation, God Himself entered into the sinful messiness of the human world, taking on flesh so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. But ultimately, it is the choice of the individual to accept His offer. 

When it comes to whether or not a book should be read and recommended by Catholics, the most important thing is whether or not the book proclaims the truth about the human condition and the spiritual order, for while there is sin, there is also grace. Both forces are at play, but the grace of God always prevails. 

There are plenty of books in great literature that contain sin, whether or not it's taking the Lord's name in vain or committing murder or adultery. Crime and Punishment is about a homicide. Does that mean we shouldn't read it? Solzhenitsyn's famous short story, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich also contains profanity and blasphemy, but it honestly and brutally portrays life in a gulag, as the book gives a concise but brilliant testament to the evils of the Communist Regime in the Soviet Union. 

In sum, while it is possible for the portrayal of sin in storytelling to become gratuitous or over-the-top, it's important to portray the world honestly, and honesty requires the acknowledgement that we live in a fallen world, where sin and evil manifest themselves in various forms. However, evil must be counter-balanced by a poignant moment of grace. 

I am eager to see how the two forces are at play in Edson's Wit

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