Monday, December 13, 2004

The Christ-Haunted South

For some time now I've been paying attention to the writers of the American Catholic Renascensce. Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton, & Dorothy Day were the first grouping. Paul Elie's book on these four is splendid (The Life You Save May Be Your Own). He weaves the four life stories together in a way that is surprising yet readable, and by the end you're convinced they're a "school" that you hadn't thought together before.

Prior to reading Elie, I had slowly made my way through O'Connor's novels, had read nothing of Percy, pieces of Merton, and heard alot about Day. Elie's book performed the work many books like his hope for- to send you off reading the writings of those you've read about.

I discovered that Day's autobiography is stellar, and reads much like Merton's. The two together bring hope and joy in the Catholic faith. Percy is a little harder to get my head around, and I have to take his novels in small doses. O'Connor is still my favorite, although her you need to read so slowly.

Recently I picked up Ralph Wood's book on O'Connor, and he has convinced me that the Catholic Renascence is also closely connected to, although not identical with, the flourishing of Southern writers in the mid-20th century- Faulkner, O'Connor, Allen Tate and the other Southern Agrarians. The first I'd ever reflected on and heard of the Southern Agrarians was in an essay by Wendell Berry, a second generation of that southern crew. He is also a great Christian writer of sorts, although not Catholic.

Wood characterizes the South as Christ-haunted rather than Christ-centered, an evocative description. I wonder what it means to live in a world like that. I wonder what Lutheranism looks like there? I know very little about Lutheranism in the South. Is anyone who reads this Lutheran and from the South?

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