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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pigs and Pearls, part 2

by a commenter
People are very opinionated about God, the Bible, and Flannery O'Connor. 

Here are some responses to my prior post opposing the publication of O'Connor's prayer journal that I found interesting or compelling. These comments are all ones that you would not have seen if you follow my blog but are not on facebook.

Some address the question directly, and others have a slantwise relationship to the topic. I find some of the arguments in favor of publication to be quite strong, though I didn't change my mind. I still prefer to think of her prayers gleaming and burning in the old spiral-bound book, and they are fine for me that way.

The post includes thoughts from some visual artists, a composer, a novelist, a longtime books editor, a publisher, and a Lutheran pastor.

For more responses, look at the comments on Pigs and pearls.

    * * *
Oh I love her prayer book! And I have been reading the selected spiritual writings from her letters in Habit of Being. She has been very much on my mind these days...
I am grateful it was published -- as a convert I am always interested in the experience of cradle Catholics and it is always instructive to learn that they struggle too with many of the same things I do. And between the two readings -- the prayer book and spiritual writings -- the younger and the more mature O'Connor, it provides a fascinating perspective of faith as a journey.
I am making sure that if my diaries are published posthumously they will be interesting to read. In fact, they are so interesting to read that I should simply write that instead of living a life! I do not enjoy the idea of reading someone's private work, if truth be told.
Interesting. First, I am one who may be mistaken for a swine who is actually a pearl, and I don't mind. No, I am not fat, I am bohemian We are mistaken for all kinds of things we are not. An artist. I like many pigs, many among them have pearl-like characteristics in the mix of who they are. All of an artist's output will hopefully be fair game for the world of swine and pigs to benefit from or not. Or, that is my hope.
I imagine someday they will be digging all of the text messages and Internet correspondences of famous people out of the virtual mud.
Thanks for this interesting topic, Marly, although I"m inclined to agree more with A.--the issues around who is casting the seeds or the pearl seem less important to me than the potential of grace to enter some completely new person's mind because of that seed or that pearl. And I don't think the pearl loses its true luster even if pigs trample it--it may be perceived as being "dirtier" but it surely isn't truly sullied.
If Emily Dickinson had a blog today, she would have very few followers. But then she wouldn't care. She'd be right about that.
Biblically speaking, "pearls before swine" also stands in tension with the lavish generosity of the sower who throws his seeds on fertile ground and rocky soil alike. (Or the wasteful love of the Prodigal Father in the story of the Prodigal Son).
Not that this removes the other murky ethical issues around publishing something which was intended to be private, but it does raise interesting theological questions about which holy treasures are to be cast about willy-nilly for all, and which are to be protected and guarded with care (and to what degree).
The New Testament witness seems to me to err on the side of offering grace freely, even to those who might throw it back in our faces or abuse it. That is Jesus' example, at least.
I must wonder if in the context of Matthew 7 (about hypocrisy in judging others), we are not to identify more with the swine more than with the one casting the pearls. I'll be the first to admit, however, that it isn't entirely clear what's going on there.
But we could also very well say that a prayer journal is not so much the treasure itself (or even the seed itself), but a mediator of the treasure. Grace has always been mediated to particular people in particular ways (the Scandal of the Incarnation-- that Jesus didn't just come as a Big Idea).
There is perhaps greater reason to discern about the distribution of private evidence of the treasure because in its particularity, has a great deal of bearing on how the infinite treasure is received. Those who are dismissive of O'Connor's journal may well be receptive and fertile ground if the witness came from another source.

In any case, there is much to ponder.


  1. I love what Scott Bailey wrote in response to the original posting: "I won't tear down that door" to O'Connor's prayer closet. I find the theological discussion here interesting, especially the question of who assigns pig status, but ultimately I fall down on the side of these being her private writings. Is a writer not afforded the right to a private journal because her medium for discussion with herself is also he medium for communicating with the world? That seems unfair. If one is writing one's diary with the idea that it will find a wider audience posthumously, well, that's fine, but that is a whole other animal, really. Great posting, Marly.

  2. Yes, that was a good metaphor!

    And I still come down on the side of not publishing as well, though I think some of these points are very well argued or are emotionally persuasive.

    The thought of such things makes you think that a writer needs a burn bin in her writing room, doesn't it? Chuck it! Don't keep it for later inspiration!

    Of course, Mother Teresa asked that her letters not be published... But the RCC overruled her. And other writers have asked that their work be destroyed in their final illnesses. We know the ones whose friends did not obey... We don't know if we've lost wondrous things to the fire. So it's a complex issue.

  3. Consumed by fire or consumed by the masses--still seems best to me to try to honor the author's intent. Wondrous things not meant for us are...not ours to have. Stolen pearls, if you will. :)

  4. Yes, that's a good expression of it...

    In the case of others, I think one has to consider the case. Some people in melancholy ask for their work to be destroyed. Some people ask others to decide. Etc.

  5. Without using words like "should" or "shouldn't," I'll admit I'm uncomfortable with the publication of O'Connor's prayer diary.

    That said, I wonder how much of it is her proximity to us. If someone dug up what appeared to be private religious musings by, say, the Emperor Charlemagne or Geoffrey Chaucer, would we still regard these figures as sufficiently human to warrant this debate? Or would we feel less affinity for them because of distance, the pricelessness of clues to the past, and the fact that we know them only directly, through their works and deeds?

  6. It's a good question. Certainly as writings approach the status of "history," our attitudes seem to change...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.