Over at the Inside Catholic blog, Zoey Romanowsky has a nice weekly feature which I’ve been meaning to mention, “Flannery Friday,” in which she posts a quote from Flannery O’Connor. Usually it’s from one of O’Connor's letters collected in The Habit of Being. I especially liked this week’s entry. It’s from a letter to the friend who is kept anonymous in the book and known only as “A” but who has since been identified as Elizabeth Hester. She entered the Church during her correspondence with Flannery but left a few years later. I won’t steal Zoey Romanowsky’s idea by reproducing the whole quote, and you should go read it, but I was struck by this sentence:
“I don’t think any the less of you outside the Church than in it, but what is painful is the realization that this means a narrowing of life for you and a lessening of the desire for life.”
I think most Christians have an A in their lives, probably more than one. We pray for them, but many of us are hesitant about trying actively to persuade them. Or at least I am, unless the person clearly wants the dialog: too often such efforts are counter-productive or misunderstood, especially in a culture where corrupt and/or misguided evangelists have to some degree poisoned the atmosphere.
And yet what I want to communicate is something like what Flannery O’Connor says here. I don’t want to defeat you in an argument or dominate your will with mine; I don’t want to bully you into thinking and behaving in certain ways simply because they are the ways of which I approve. And lurking behind it (or maybe quite out front) is the uneasiness that the other may take any challenge as disapproval or rejection, although “I don’t think any less of you outside the Church than in it.” I want you to have life. I don’t want you to settle for a life of disappointment that ends in death. I want you to have a desire for life that can’t be satisfied with anything less than the absolute—perfection in eternity, God himself.
Absence of belief means a gradual narrowing of possibilities. For most people youth is a time of seemingly endless possibility, but because one is not infinite, some of these possibilities must be passed over. And even if one is not disappointed in the narrow set of things which is all even the most fortunate person can attain, time will see to it that those things are taken away, if not by circumstances or personal fault then, with absolute certainty, by old age and death. This makes even an apparently and mostly happy and successful life a tragedy in the end.
...a narrowing of life... Life without the hope we have in Christ is a sort of funnel-shaped tunnel closed at the end, wide at the mouth but getting more and more narrow as you go, until final it comes to a point beyond which nothing can pass. Life as a Christian is the opposite. It may seem narrow at the opening, it may exclude some things one might have enjoyed, but for the spirit it gets wider and wider until it finally opens out into eternity.
As if to illustrate the point, Betty Hester eventually committed suicide, twenty-plus years after Flannery herself died of the disease that kept her in discomfort and pain for much of her life. I suppose Flannery was probably praying for her as long as she was alive, and I wonder if she offered some of her own considerable suffering for her friend, and possibly kept suicide from being the last word between Betty Hester and God.Pre-TypePad