Runners Who Read

Who knew? A bunch of runners who enjoy reading and discussing what they read.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

More Thoughts and Spoilers

This RWR blog is rapidly becoming a fascinating experience (you would not believe how many books I’ve been inspired to read lately). I had already posted a few thoughts on The Second Coming when Ed offered his insights, and then Bernice and Michele offered theirs. Several comments touched on religious symbolism. Your thoughtful commentary led me to ponder the novel anew, but from a theological perspective this time.

In perusing some of the study materials, I learned that Percy focuses on two primary themes: marriage and faith. He certainly does, but from an outside-in perspective. He is searching for essential truths.

Bernice is absolutely correct when she says: “Walker Percy is so good at having his characters describe a world they want no part of.” Percy offers a rather melancholy view of marriage, doesn’t he? Certainly the unions of the Vaughts and the Barretts seemed emotionally barren. Will didn’t even attend his own daughter’s wedding. But Percy is slowly digging deeper – far past the daily realities/trials of married life.

Percy offers a rather jaundiced view of religious expression as well. Jack Curl, Will’s daughter and his deceased wife are portrayed as ostensibly spiritual yet, somehow, spiritless. Will summarizes the state of affairs this way: “…there are only two classes of people, the believers and the unbelievers. The only difficulty is deciding which is the more feckless.” So…what does Will do? He descends into the cave (darkness) to find proof of God. What happens? He crashes into the greenhouse (Eden), and into the arms of Allie. Will finds love.

Percy ends his novel with this:

Will Barrett thought about Allie…His heart leapt with a secret joy. What is it I want from her…not only want but must have? Is she a gift and therefore a sign of a giver? Could it be that the Lord is here, masquerading behind this simple silly holy face? Am I crazy to want both, her and Him? No, not want, must have. And will have.”

I think what Walker Percy is saying (and he may, in fact, be correct) is that love truly IS a gift from God. That it is only through love that we may come to experience and know sublime divinity. God may not necessarily be present in our institutions, credos, mores, ceremonies and rituals despite, even, our good intentions or noble efforts. God is experienced only through love…however one may find it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Spiritual seeking and The Second Coming: some random first notes (SPOILERS)

Walker Percy is a pretty darned good writer, isn’t he? Looking at The Second Coming strictly from the perspective of style and craftsmanship, I was struck again and again by his unique voice, that peculiar blend of sentimentality and cynicism – a man who is disgusted by much of what he sees in the world but ultimately can’t help but find meaning and hope in it. He has a poet’s sensibility, and it serves him well. I especially thought Allison’s dialogue was amusing, original, and fit the character perfectly. In fact, I think one of Percy’s strengths is revealing character through dialogue.

Some things I didn’t care for. I felt the novel’s structure was somewhat contrived and flawed … important events such as Will and Allison’s meeting (where he literally “falls at her feet”), and Allison turning out to be the daughter of Kitty Vaught, simply seemed too coincidental to take seriously. And Allison seemed to disappear from the narrative for too long a stretch of time. Plus, Will’s frequent “comic bafflement” when confronted by others got on my nerves a bit, and he seemed a little too passive for me -- although I suppose this was understandable given his mental problems. But I felt he was pushed, pulled, or (literally) fell into situations, rather than making the decisions himself – a bit of a puppet for the protagonist of a novel.

I’ll be interested in hearing what the humanists/atheists/agnostics among us made of this book. Percy is a strongly Christian writer of Roman Catholic faith, and yet he frequently satirizes what he seems to see as the materialism of organized Christianity. A case in point is Jack Curl, the Episcopal priest (the monk and writer Thomas Merton had it in for Episcopalians, too) who is one of the most irreligious characters in the entire novel. Also, it seems the “Church,” as symbolized by Jack Curl and others, is much more interested and more comfortable talking about money and what to build with it than they are about discussing Will’s admittedly difficult (if not downright strange at times!) questions about God. Or perhaps it’s the worst aspects of the mainstream Protestant church Percy is satirizing, a sort of lazy or easy Christianity that really doesn't require much of us except a little spare cash.

I picked up from somewhere the idea that Allison’s greenhouse is sort of a Garden of Eden in miniature, an earthly paradise safe from the lust and greed (the golf course and country club where Will plays golf with his cronies) that surrounds it. That might make Will the New Adam and Allison The New Eve, building a new and purer world in the midst of the old, flawed one. I think it’s an interesting idea, at least.

I thought it interesting that Allison’s frequent response “I can hoist,” which she uses to describe what she does, literally means lifting something up … in the spiritual sense, she certainly “lifts up” Will from the world he’s mired in.

Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning that Percy’s father committed suicide and he mother died when he was very young.

A novel about spiritual seeking, masquerading as an eccentric romantic comedy – I enjoyed it with a few reservations, mostly concerning how events seemed forced along at times.

That’s enough rambling from me for now – please feel free to comment, agree, challenge, add, etc.

Where I'm Calling Linking From

Apropos nothing, a fun piece for those who've been taken into the short stories of Raymond Carver.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mary Oliver!!!

Catholic nuns impressed upon me, at a very early age, that it was a desecration (bordering on mortal sin) to dog-ear the pages of a book. In my innocent youth I strove to respect every book I touched. Miscreant that I am, however, I eventually succumbed to dog-earing the pages of poetry books. I wanted to find my favorite poems as quickly as possible. Hence…despite chronic guilt…I filled my shelves with tomes of poems, ragged but glorious in their defilement.

And so it was when I picked up Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems – Volume One. Each page ended bent and frayed. Dog-eared page after dog-eared page, I found myself transported to a profoundly beautiful world of owls, hummingbirds, swamps, forests, daisies, sunflowers, ravens, deer and herons. Mary Oliver renders the ordinary extraordinary and finds deeper truths in the living world surrounding us. I found her poems so captivating that I realized, about halfway through this book, that I had dog-eared every page. There was simply no need to mark all the pages. Each poem was a joy, a gift, a revelation. Yes, she is THAT good. She truly deserves her Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and National Book Award. This book is, without a doubt, my favorite poetry collection of all time (sorry Pablo and May…).

For those of you who have yet to experience the wisdom and innate goodness of Mary Oliver, here are a few morsels:

“…and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms…”

“…for it’s true, isn’t it,
in our world,
that the petals pooled with nectar, and the polished thorns
are a single thing –
that even the purest light, lacking the robe of darkness,
would be without expression –
that love itself, without its pain, would be
no more than a shruggable comfort…”

“…where the hummingbird comes
like a small green angel, to soak
his dark tongue in happiness –“

“When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms…”

“Look, I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.”

“In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.”

“…you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal:
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

“Like Magellan, let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.”

“Because we lived our several lives
Caught up within the spells of love,
Because we always had to run
Through the enormous yards of day
To do all that we hoped to do,
We did not hear, beneath our lives,
The old walls falling out of true,
Foundations shifting in the dark.”

“…and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing that you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.”