Thursday, September 19, 2013

Knowing More while Knowing Less and the Faith of Walker Percy

Dear Misfits,

At our meeting last Wednesday, there was unanimous agreement that Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos is a very challenging and enlightening read. Witty, provocative, original, somber are some of the adjectives that only begin to describe this book.  We also concluded that it is a very dense book that bears rereading and study.  Percy begins by describing each of us as a "self" in a Cosmos "about which you know more and more while knowing less and less about yourself, this despite 10,000 self-help books, 100,000 psycho-therapists, and 100 million fundamentalist Christians".  In the end, Walker firmly concludes that the Catholic faith, with its "preposterous" claim to truth is the key to survival in the Cosmos.  Without Faith, the "gap between our knowledge of the Cosmos and our knowledge of ourselves widens and we become ever more alien to the very Cosmos we understand..."  Faith is the sole remedy for the “predicament" the human self finds itself in.  We may be lost in the Cosmos but we can anchor ourselves in the man-God who gave us the Catholic Church and the certain promise of His return.

Group Therapy

I have also [linked to] an excellent essay on Walker Percy’s life that was sent to me by Misfit Brad Lindberg.  The essay by Father Damian J. Ference explains many of the themes that Percy writes about in Lost in the Cosmos.  Father Damien is particularly insightful on the subject of suicide which claimed many of Walker Percy’s closes family members early in his life.  It explains many of the comments on suicide that Percy makes in Lost in the Cosmos.

Now to the future:

For October, we have chosen to read All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams.  Williams—novelist, poet, critic, dramatist and biographer—died in his native England in May, 1945. He had a lively and devoted following  and achieved a considerable reputation as a lecturer on the faculty of Oxford University. T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers and C. S. Lewis were among his distinguished friends and literary sponsors. He was also a member of the Inklings, a group of Christian writers that included J.R.R. Tolkien. 
Charles Williams

All Hallows' Eve is the story of a man and woman whose love was so great it could bridge the gap of death; of evil so terrible as to be unmentionable, of a vision so beautiful it must be true. A consideration in our choice of this novel is the occurrence of Halloween next month.

The novel is available from Amazon $13.81.

For November, we return to William Shakespeare, one of the greatest Catholic authors in literature.  (Some may argue that Shakespeare wasn’t a Catholic author.  The Misfits think he was, so get over it!)  We will read King Lear, one of Shakespeare's darkest and most savage plays.  It tells the story of the foolish and Job-like Lear, who divides his kingdom, as he does his affections, according to vanity and whim. Lear’s failure as a father engulfs himself and his world in turmoil and tragedy. 
The play is available from Amazon in many editions, some for as little as $6.26 in paperback.
In December, the Misfits have decided to begin reading C. S. Lewis’ classic Space Trilogy.  We will start with Out of the Silent Planet which begins the adventures of the remarkable Dr. Ransom. Dr. Ransom is abducted by a megalomaniacal physicist and his accomplice and taken via spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra.  The physicist is in need of a human sacrifice, and Dr. Ransom was selected to fill that role. Once on the planet, however, Ransom eludes his captors, risking his life and his chances of returning to Earth, becoming a stranger in a land that is enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity. Even though it was first published in 1943, Out of the Silent Planet remains a topically current, very modern read.

The Space Trilogy, continues with Perelandra (our January, 2014 book) and concludes with That Hideous Strength (our February, 2014 book).

Finally, let me recommend a web site wherein the Misfits are mentioned by another of our Misfits, Chris Hagen.  The web site features an interview titled, “Why Catholic Books Still Matter: An Interview with Christopher Hagen.”  Give it a read.  I think you will enjoy it (and the mention of The Misfits.)  (See:

. . .

And to remind, we always meet at 7:00 pm on the second Wednesday of every month in the St. Thomas More Library Room, the Church of St. Michael, Stillwater, MN.  Therefore, our next meeting will be at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, October 9th. (Our meetings and discussion always end at 8:30 pm. )

With warmest regards,

Misfit Buzz

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Walker Percy = Bad Catholic

Dear Misfits,

We are about to begin our 12th year of reading the great books of our shared Catholic literary tradition.  What a journey it has been.  We have read so many great books together.  It is exciting to realize that there are so many more to be read!

When we took our annual summer break we hadn't decided the book we would read next.  So I've chosen one I've long wanted to read...and I hope you will all agree that it is a good choice; lets read Walker Percy's classic,  Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book.  To quote: "Walker Percy's mordantly funny and wholly original contribution to the self-help book craze deals with the Western mind's tendency toward heavy abstraction. This favorite of Percy fans continues to charm and beguile readers of all tastes and backgrounds. Lost in the Cosmos invites us to think about how we communicate with our world....Walker Percy (1916-1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a U.S. senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction titles--including the classic novel The Moviegoer (1961), winner of the National Book Award--and fifteen works of nonfiction. In 2005, Time magazine named The Moviegoer one of the best English-language books published since 1923."  (The Misfits read The Moviegoer in May, 2003)

. . . 

Shown below is a short interview  given by Walker Percy on his Faith as a Catholic.  (I think he perhaps speaks for all of us Misfits!)

. . .

With warmest regards,

Misfit Buzz

Walker Percy on his Faith (From Magnificat Magazine)
Q: What kind of Catholic are you?
 A. Bad.
 Q: Are you a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?
 A: I don’t know what that means . . . . Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?
 Q: Yes.
 A: Yes.
 Q: How is such a belief possible in this day and age?
 A: What else is there?
 Q: What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.
 A: That’s what I mean.
 Q: I don’t understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?
 A: Yes.
 Q: Why?
 A: It’s not good enough.
 Q: Why not?
 A: This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
 Q: Grabbed aholt?
 A: A Louisiana expression.
 Q: But isn’t the Catholic Church in a mess these days, badly split, its liturgy barbarized, vocations declining?
 A: Sure. That’s a sign of its divine origins, that it survives these periodic disasters.
 Q: You don’t act or talk like a Christian. Aren’t they supposed to love one another and do good works?
 A: Yes.
 Q: You don’t seem to have much use for your fellowman or do many good works.
 A: That’s true. I haven’t done a good work in years.
 Q: In fact, if I may be frank, you strike me as being rather negative in your attitude, cold-blooded, aloof, derisive, self-indulgent, more fond of the beautiful things of this world than of God.
 A: That’s true.
 Q: You even seem to take certain satisfaction in the disasters of the twentieth-century and to savor the imminence of world catastrophe rather than world peace, which all religions seek.
 A: That’s true.
 Q: You don’t seem to have much use for your fellow Christians, to say nothing of Ku Kluxers, ACLU’ers, northerners, southerners, fem-libbers, anti-fem-libbers, homosexuals, anti-homosexuals, Republicans, Democrats, hippies, anti-hippies, senior citizens.
 A: That’s true – though taken as individuals they turn out to be more or less like oneself, i.e., sinners, and we get along fine.
 Q: Even Ku Kluxers?
 A: Sure.
 Q: How do you account for your belief?
 A: I can only account for it as a gift from God.
 Q: Why would God make you such a gift when there are others who seem more deserving, that is, serve their fellowman?
 A: I don’t know. God does strange things. . . .
 Q: But shouldn’t one’s faith bear some relation to the truth, facts?
 A: Yes. That’s what attracted me, Christianity’s rather insolent claim to be true, with the implication that other religions are more or less false.
 Q: You believe that?

 A: Of course.

Taylor Caldwell Gets the Job Done

Dear Misfits,

On last Wednesday evening, we had a very good discussion of Taylor Caldwell's novel, Dear And Glorious Physician, her epic story of St. Luke. The novel was an instant best seller and hugely popular when first published in 1958. It has since sold millions of copies in multiple editions and was recently reissued by Ignatius Press.

Caldwell begins her epic novel two thousand years ago when St. Luke was Lucanus, a Greek man who loved, knew the emptiness of bereavement, and later traveled through the hills and wastes of Judea asking, "What manner of man was my Lord?" Lucanus is portrayed first as a man struggling with his faith who defies God, a God who does not stop suffering and allows the horrors of disease and the painful death of seemingly innocent people. Caldwell gives a very moving account of Luke's struggle to find meaning in the midst of suffering.  He eventually comes to terms with his struggle to understand man's condition and becomes one of Christianity’s earliest converts. He then sets out to write the story of Jesus laying out what has come to be known as The Gospel of St. Luke.

Not all of the Misfits at the meeting were equally taken with the novel. Some cited the language which often borders on the florid. Another criticism were the exaggerated coincidences Caldwell frequently used to develop the plot of the story. There is also the sense that she plays fast and loose with many of the facts of Luke's early life.  Much of what she relates is obviously made up and fictional. That said, the final chapters are strongly biblical and completely based on the Gospel of St. Luke. The Canticle of Zachariah and the Canticle of Mary are both very moving and set in the context of their relation to Luke's Gospel. Caldwell's regard for the Virgin Mary is obvious and her story is very well told, particularly as it relates to the strong Marian character of St. Luke's Gospel.

So, if you are looking for a fast-paced "Christian" novel with strong and interesting characters, this is an exciting book to read. It is not great or timeless literature. However, it gets the job done and is a good read for Catholics and people of faith.

Our final book before our summer break is Hilaire Belloc's The Path to Rome which was first published in 1902.  Belloc, a prolific author, considered this his best book, an opinion shared by most critics. It is a delightful story of the pilgrimage Belloc made on foot to Rome in order to fulfill a vow he had made to "...see all Europe which the Christian Faith has saved…” In The Life of Hilaire Belloc, Robert Speaight states: “More than any other book he ever wrote, The Path to Rome made Belloc’s name; more than any other, it has been lovingly thumbed and pondered…. The book is a classic, born of something far deeper than the physical experience it records.”

I think we are really going to like this book.

Yours in Christ,

Misfist Buzz