Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I'd Like to Be More Like Swiss Cheese
It's very hard to be Catholic; it requires so much more than church attendance. In truth, there are tenants of this faith that I grapple with daily. Ultimately, I think religion should lead one to a connection with his Maker, others, and a deeper sense of wisdom. It should lead a person to holiness, and each one of us has to take responsibility for his own journey.
Yesterday, while I was snacking and finishing reading Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor, I had a thought. I think God wants me to be just like Swiss cheese. I need to make holes in myself. Unlike this book, I absolutely do not mean self-mutilation! Let me explain. Holiness may mean becoming more vulnerable, and in a sense, less guarded. In attempting to be more open, accepting and loving one creates spaces in the heart for suffering. The more open a person becomes, the scarier life becomes. According to the faith I've chosen, I am to trust that even if I do get hurt, being open is the right choice that will lead me to a sense of peace.
This idea of becoming open goes against everything I hear. I live in a world that suspects everyone and everything in the negative. My television puts out stories of murder and rape every evening on almost every prime time channel. The news media revels in conflict, danger and disaster. People are trained not to trust in or look for the goodness in others. This message hurts us just as much as violence itself.
I think the best literature asks a universal question and leaves you thinking about it further. One question that I constantly find myself seeking to explore in things I read deals with holiness. What is it and why do I want it? I like seeing the many roads that people take towards it, and the ways in which people who are not looking for holiness stumble into it anyway.One of the reasons why I like Flannery O'Connor stories is because she discusses this idea of the quest for faith, and the change that the active search for God makes on a human being.
For example, O'Connor's book Wise Blood explores the quest for holiness. Hazel Motes finds religion on his own, and that is what he longs for in the first place, underneath his fierce rejection of it. The character doesn't want to be forced to swallow the religious perception of others, and through experiencing his own suffering journey of rejecting God, he moves toward a change of heart. Like so many of us, Hazel Motes is ruled by pride, by his need to be right, and he finds a way that is quite unique and terrifying to kill that pride.
This tale, with its many layers, is an example of why Flannery O'Connor is a talented writer. In 1962, ten years after the publication of Wise Blood, she wrote,
"That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence. For them Hazel Motes' integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to do so. "
Christ's redemption of humanity is the major theme in this novel. O'Connor's subtle message is that ALL humanity, even those we perceive to be bad, nasty, ugly, evil people are loved unconditionally by God. The characters in this story are gross, despicable human beings. O'Connor is never afraid to show a picture of humanity in the raw. In Wise Blood we see Hazel Motes, someone who is plainly full of hate, find peace and faith through suffering. To find his "truth" he removes the obstacle to it, in this case, his sight. Motes blinds himself, and only then does he find some rest from the frantic quest to disprove the existence of God.
In some mysterious way he decides, after maiming himself, that he was wrong about Jesus. Then he stuffs his shoes with rocks and glass, and wraps his body in barbed wire to "pay" as he says, for his sins. This character's actions are fascinating and horrific. Through his warped, misguided sense of guilt, Hazel Motes seeks to change and follow Christ in the end of his life, after publicly denouncing and ridiculing Jesus, and even killing a man.
I read the middle chapters of the book three times to find the place where he changed. I'm wondering why he changes. I decide, finally, that it has something to do with losing his car and then blinding himself. More important than the strange self-mutilation that is, in itself, sinful, is Hazel Motes' inward desire to change into someone holier. It makes me wonder how ordinary real-life characters like myself can change while still being immersed in this society that is so counter-Christ and confusing. Just like in the world of Wise Blood, sometimes those who claim to be religious are not acting holy. How is an ordinary person supposed to find truth and garner the courage to live openly?
Hazel Motes does not pray verbally after his change in heart, but he sits, motionless, in a kind of Adoration perhaps, doing his secret, painful penance. His last words are:
"I want to go where I'm going."
I think about this line for a while. Could the author mean that Hazel Motes finally makes peace with the spiritual unrest in his heart? He changes and re-establishes a relationship with Christ the best way that he is able to.
For the first part of the novel, Hazel Motes is on the run.
“Nobody with a good car needs to be justified.” He says.
His change in heart begins the moment the cop pushes his car off the cliff. Finally forced to stop running and face his actions, is Hazel Motes trying to kill his own pride? I’m still trying to figure this out. Is he trying to absolve himself and at the end of his life does he feel a sense of freedom? I think O’Connor leaves this idea up for debate in the end, but she does give the character more integrity for trying to change. Hazel Motes is definitely like Swiss cheese at the end of his life.
Will I ever get holy? Um, I’m not sure. I will not do what that character did to get there, I'm certain. My life, however, looks nothing like what his looked like. For me the road to truth is a different landscape. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all if I change or not into a better person. Maybe what matters is my effort.
Dear Internet Traveler,
Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.