In which we take a literary turn.
By Michelle Martin
Published April 23, 2012
One of the commenters arguing against the points made by me and by others in the comments saw fit to refer to scripture (Ecclesiastes 3:1), which gives me an excuse to quote southern gothic writer Flannery O'Connor, in whose writing scripture is frequently quoted by the unlikeliest of characters in circumstances just as unlikely.
Her funny, profound and ultimately moving short story, A Temple of the Holy Ghost, is told through the eyes of a not-yet-adolescent child who is just on the cusp of a more mature spirituality, but who for the time being enjoys making fun of others and has a comfortable sense of her own superiority - until her visiting teenage cousins come home from the fair with a more interesting story than she's ever been able to tell.
In the dark, they recount what they saw at a sideshow they managed to sneak into with their dates:
The girls heard the freak say to the men, 'I'm going to show you this and if you laugh, God may strike you the same way. This is the way He wanted me to be and I ain't disputing His way. I'm showing you because I got to make the best of it. I expect you to act like ladies and gentlemen. I never done it to myself nor had anything to do with it but I'm making the best of it. I don't dispute hit (sic).' Then there was a long silence on the other side of the tent and finally the freak left the men and came over to the women's side and said the same thing...
...She lay in bed trying to picture the tent with the freak walking from side to side but she was too sleepy to figure it out. She was better able to see the faces of the country people watching...She could hear the freak saying, 'God made me thisaway and I don't dispute hit,' and the people saying, 'Amen. Amen.'
'God done this to me and I praise Him.'
'He could strike you thisaway.'
'But he has not.'
'Raise yourself up. A temple of the Holy Ghost. You! You are God's temple, don't you know? God's Spirit has a dwelling in you, don't you know?'
... 'I am a temple of the Holy Ghost.'
The people began to slap their hands together without making a loud noise and with a regular beat between the Amens, more and more softly, as if they knew a child was near, half asleep."
(From The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, 1971.)
Whenever I read that story, I end up re-reading Jean Vanier as well, because his writing makes the same point in a vastly different style. And so I'll end with him:
Until we realize that we belong to a common humanity, that we need each other, that we can help each other, we will continue to hide behind feelings of elitism and superiority and behind the walls of prejudice, judgment and disdain that those feelings engender...
...As we start to get to know others, as we begin to listen to each other's stories, things begin to change. We no longer judge each other according to concepts of power and knowledge or according to group identity, but according to these personal, heart-to-heart encounters. We begin the movement from exclusion to inclusion, from fear to trust, from closedness to openness, from judgment and prejudice to forgiveness and understanding. It is a movement of the heart. We begin to see each other as brothers and sisters in humanity."
(From Becoming Human, 2008.)
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