Gilead, Part 5, The Bread of Affliction

Part 5, The Bread of Affliction

John Ames recounts when his father gave him a piece of bread after a church had burned. John and his father (a pastor) were helping the members and leaders of this African American church after their church had burned down as a result of lightning. While taking a rest, John’s father gave him a peace of bread as a snack. Yet, John would remember that as an instance of communion.

It was so joyful and sad. I mention it again because it seem to me much of my life was comprehended in that moment. Grief itself has often returned me to that morning, when I took communion from my father’s hand. I remember it as communion, and I believe that’s what it was.

I can’t tell you what that day in the rain has meant to me. I can’t tell myself what it has meant to me. But I know how many things it put altogether beyond question, for me.

(p. 96)


This first line I quoted above reminds me of a line from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. This line arises when a man named Rakitin brings up a situation to Grushenka earlier in the novel. Alyosha, the main character was present in the original situation and in the conversation about it. Rakitin recalls how Grushenka shamed Katerina Ivanovna. Katerina Ivanovna had kissed Grushenka’s hand three times; but when Grushenka God down to kiss Katerina Ivanovna’s hand, she refused to do so. The situation is rather more complicated than as represented. But this is Grushenka’s response to Rakitin bringing up this shameful story:

“Know? [Dmitri] doesn’t know anything. If he found out, he’d kill me. But now I’m not afraid at all, I’m not afraid of his knife now. Shut up, Rakitin, don’t remind me of Dmitri Fyodorovich: he’s turned my heart to mush. And I don’t want to think about anything right now. But I can think about Alyoshechka [Alyosha], I’m looking at Alyoshechka…Smile at me, darling, cheer up, smile at my foolishness, at my joy… He smiled, he smiled! What a tender look! You know, Alyosha, I keep thinking you must be angry with me because of two days ago, because of the young lady. I was a bitch, that’s what… Only it’s still good that it happened that way. It was bad and it was good. […] No it’s good that it happened that way,” she smiled again. “But I’m still afraid you’re angry…”

(p. 350)


Sometimes we notice in reality this alloy of the good and bad, this amassed heap of indistinguishable content, in which exist the most terrible of things and the most beautiful.

Film

Since it is now Christmas break for me, I have been able to watch a movie or two with my free time. This is encouraged me to compile a list of my favorite movies. These are some of my favorite films that I have watched:

Honorable Mention: The Revenant (Alejandro Inarritu, 2015)

Top 10 Favorite Works (so far)

These are my top ten works so far that I have read.

  1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  2. Training in Christianity by Soren Kierkegaard
  3. The book of John
  4. An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis
  5. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
  6. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  7. Dubliners by James Joyce
  8. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  9. Othello by Shakespeare
  10. The book of Ezekiel
  11. The Odyssey by Homer
  12. Confessions by St. Augustine

On Re-reading

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Currently, I am reading Pride and Prejudice for my English Literature class this semester. I read this last semester when I took a Jane Austen class, where we read all six major novels of Austen. I am enjoying the experience of re-reading, especially having a different context for the novel (before, I read it in the context of her other novels; now, I am reading it in the context of other British literature from 1700-1900). I am catching things that I didn’t before, and my opinions of characters are different this time through.

Thinking about re-reading, I have thought back on some books that, when I read them, didn’t seem to impact me, but as I have reflected, they have begun to grip my mind. Two books have been resurfacing in my thoughts:

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

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Dubliners by James Joyce

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Every time I think about these books, or look through passages I underlined, or talk to someone who has read these, I am further convinced of their greatness; and I further realize how much these books have affected me; and I remember images painted by the words that have stuck in my mind.

This is only shows that I need to re-read these books.

Here are some words from my favorite C.S. Lewis book, An Experiment in Criticism, a work that has affected me more so than almost any other book:

Certainly, as soon as they can read for themselves, the two groups are already divided. There are those who read only when there is nothing better to do, gobble up each story to ‘find out what happened’, and seldom go back to it; and others who reread and are profoundly moved. (p. 13; emphasis mine)

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The Barber

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In this next short story by Flannery O’Connor, the narrator brings us into a barber shop, where two (and more) men, discuss who they will vote for in “the Democratic White Primary” (p. 15)

Our main character, Rayber, wants to vote for Darmon, the candidate that supports African American equality. On the other side, Joe, the Barber, wants to vote for Hawkson, a man directly opposed to the rights of African Americans.

This whole story narrates the three visits to the barber shop that Rayber makes (to get shaved). They discuss politics all three times. Before the last visit, Rayber prepares an argument, reasons to vote for Darmon.

We see Raybor read this argument to his philosophical friend, Jacobs, a student.

In the afternoon he took it around to Jacob’s office. Blakeley was there but he left. Rayber read the paper to Jacobs.

“Well,” Jacobs said, “so what? What do you call yourself doing?” He had been jotting figures down on a record sheet all the time Rayber was reading.

Rayber wondered if he were busy. “Defending myself against barbers,” he said. “You ever tried to argue with a barber?”

“I never argue,” Jacobs said.

“That’s because you don’t know this kind of ignorance,” Rayber explained. “You’ve never experienced it.”

Jacobs snorted. “Oh yes I have,” he said.

“What happened?”

“I never argue.”

“But you know you’re right,” Rayber persisted.

“I never argue.” (pp. 21-22)

Rayber is trying to argue with these barbers, and this desire seems devoid of any sort of care or compassion. It is polemic, attacking, selfish. But we agree with Rayber on the mere facts of politics (hopefully, right?). Nevertheless, we don’t agree with his tactics. He has right meaning but wrong manner. We see him “argue” in the last two pages of the story.

Rayber felt as if he were fighting his way out of a net. They were over him with their red faces grinning. He heard the words drag out – “Well, the way I see it, men elect…” He felt them pull out of his mouth like freight cars, jangling, backing up on each other, grating to a halt, sliding, clinching back, jarring, and then suddenly stopping as roughly as they had begun. It was over. Rayber was jarred that it was over so soon. For a second – as if they were expecting him to go on – no one said anything. (p. 24)

The men are completely unaffected by Rayber’s speech. Even though arguments are helpful. And it’s not as if an argument has never persuaded someone. However, it is worthless to expect an argument to be able to change someone’s mind. Arguments can, but don’t always affect people. And Rayber does all of this without much sense of compassion. That is what I find missing. If only Rayber could have loved Joe, Roy, and the others in their racism, with the hopes of bringing them out of that wrong thinking. But that is not how Rayber approaches the situation.

The Geranium

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Just today I started Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. She is said to be one of the greatest short story writers to have ever lived. So, I decided to be introduced to Southern writing by way of Flannery–by reading one short story each Saturday until I finish her short stories. Her first short story in this collection I have is titled ‘The Geranium.’ It is about Old Dudley, a southern old man now living with his daughter (and her family) in New York City. In this story, we see characters and how they relate to other people, specifically African Americans (I will not be using the word that Flannery uses just because I don’t feel comfortable saying. I do, however, think her using of it actually adds something to the short story). These are the following characters we see and their view of African Americans:

  1. Old Dudley

He shuffled to the chair by the window and sank down in it. His throat was going to pop on account of a nigger – a damn nigger that patted him on the back and called him “old-timer.” Him that knew such as that couldn’t be. Him that had come from a good place. A good place. A place where such as that couldn’t be. His eyes felt strange in their sockets. They were swelling in them and in a minute there wouldn’t be any room left for them there. He was trapped in this place where niggers could call you “old-timer.” He wouldn’t be trapped. He wouldn’t be. He rolled his head on the back of to stretch his neck that was too full. (p. 13)

Old Dudley cannot adjust to the idea that this man (the African American, or any African American at that) is not able to be on the same level as him. He has no problem living in community with African Americans–he hunted and fished with Rabie back in Georgia all the time! Yet, Old Dudley can only commune with an African American if it is known that he is superior to the man of color. It offends him that this suited black man in New York feels on equal footing with him–enough to have compassion on Old Dudley. How dare he help an old man like that!

2. The Daughter

You would hope that the daughter had a better view of African Americans than Old Dudley. But no, her view merely is a different form of hatred. When Old Dudley and his daughter talk about the man moving in next door (the suited black man), this is their conversation:

“You mean,” Old Dudley murmured, “he’s gonna live next door to you?”

She shrugged. “I suppose he is. And you tend to your own business,” she added. “Don’t have anything to do with him.” (p. 9)

The Daughter accepts the fact that this suited black man (and all African Americans) are not inferior to her (and all white people). Yet, she is unwilling to live in relationship with this man. She deems him unworthy of her company. A woman on the staircase treats Old Dudley in a similar way, as The Daughter relates to the suited black man:

He turned down the first flight of stairs. down the second he heard footsteps coming up. He looked over the banisters and saw it was a woman – a fat woman with an apron on. From the top, she looked kind er like Mrs. Benson at home. he wondered if she would speak to him. When they were four steps from each other, he darted a glance at her but she wasn’t looking at him. When there were no steps between them, his eyes fluttered up for an instant and she was looking at him cold in the face. Then she was past him. She hadn’t said a word. He felt heavy in his stomach. (p. 10)

Now, this is how these two characters treat African Americans. But this need not be limited to the way in which white people think about and act towards black people. No, I think O’Connor is showing us the art of compassion (or the lack of such art, rather). Yet, we do get one image of compassion in this short story. See the suited black man assist Old Dudley on the stairs:

“You better be careful,” the Negro said. “You could easily hurt yourself on these steps.” And he held out his hand for Old Dudley to pull on. It was a long narrow hand and the tips of his fingernails were clean and cut squarely. They looked like they might have been filed. Old Dudley’s hands hung between his knees. The nigger took him by the arm and pulled up. “Whew!” he grasped, “you’re heavy. Give a little help here.” Old Dudley’s knees unbended and he staggered up. The nigger had him by the arm. “I’m going up anyway,” he said. “I’ll help you.” Old Dudley looked frantically around. The steps behind him seemed to close up. He was walking with a nigger up the stairs. The nigger was waiting for him on each step. “So you hung?” the nigger was saying. “Well, let’s see. I went deer hunting once. I believe we used a Dodson .38 to get those deer. What do you use?”

Old Dudley was staring through the shiny tan shoes. “I use a gun,” he mumbled.

“I like to fool with guns better than hunting,” the nigger was saying. “Never was much at killing anything. Seems kind of a shame to deplete the game reserve. I’d collect guns if I had the time and money, though.” He was waiting on every step till Old Dudley got on it. he was explaining the guns and makes. He had on gray socks with a black fleck in them. They finished the stairs. The nigger walked down the hall with him, holding him by the arm. It probably looked like he had his arm locked in the nigger’s. (pp. 12-13)

The Four Loves: Charity

The word Charity really has connotations that should be deserted when trying to understand this last of Lewis’ loves. Typically, I have heard this love referred to as agape, meaning “love”–specifically referring to the love of God for His people. This is how we are to love God in return. This is also how we are to love those next to us, and the gifts bestowed upon us.

But Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior, and the sneering. Finally, by a high paradox, God enables men to have a Gift-love towards Himself. (p. 322)

The way we have a Gift-love for God is to give Him ourselves.