The human body is an offer of Divine Grace. Sure, but this body? With its flaws and aches and less-than-perfect aesthetic value? Yup, that very one. Word on Fire contributor Ellyn von Huben draws upon the great lessons and legacy of Flannery O'Connor to illuminate just what it is about the body that works to reveal that most sacred gift.
Domestic violence is not entertaining. And I don’t spend my time scanning news sites looking for more sadness than that which usually jumps out at me when I check the Chicago Tribune each morning. But… there was an incident that caught my eye on a popular news/chat/gossip site a few days ago. And my first response was to send it to a friend with the brief comment, “Hulga’s revenge?”
Flannery O’Connor fans know who Hulga is. A joyless woman, possessed of a degree in philosophy but little common sense, Hulga - née Joy - lost a leg in a childhood accident. She lives with her mother on the family farm, where her position is, in today’s parlance, resident “Debbie Downer.” In a tragi-comical turn of events, Hulga seduces a Bible salesman whom she takes to be an innocent rube, and instead winds up as his victim. The Bible salesman is not what he appeared to be and Hulga, in her haste to shame him, allows herself to be shamed. Not only is Hulga shamed, she is left in the loft of the barn while salesman takes quick leave of her – carrying her prosthetic leg as a trophy. (This is better told by Flannery herself. If you don’t have a copy of her collected works I would advise that you find one. And make “Good Country People” one of your first choices.)
How could Hulga not come to mind when I read of a woman in South Carolina who stabbed her boyfriend and then threw his prosthetic leg into the yard to keep him from chasing her? And this woman was thorough! She didn’t just through his leg out in the yard; she tossed his spare leg, too. I wonder if any other fans of Flannery and “Good Country People” also saw it as some sort of turnabout on Hulga’s tale. (That is all I know of this sad story, except that it coincidentally took place in the south, reminding me of what the great author said about that, “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”)
The frailties of the human body show up frequently in Flannery’s work. As a Catholic, she knew the importance of the human body as being an offer of Divine Grace. Each human body. In the Resurrection, it will be our bodies, glorified, that will rise. God himself became human, incarnated in a body of flesh and blood – bones, tendons, corpuscles and muscles. It is easy to see to make a connection to the divine if one looks upon a body in its prime – adorable babies, Olympic athletes at the peak of their fitness, gorgeous women on the covers of popular magazines, men so good looking they must be deported...
Today is the Feast Day of St. George, patron of seemingly innumerable places, people and professions. But his most storied legacy seems to be that of "dragon slayer." Word on Fire contributor Jared Zimmerer takes a look at the legend of St. George, and finds why the lore of this mighty deed has been such a lasting one.
In Selena, Libya, there was a lake that was inhabited by a fierce and ravenous dragon. To appease this terrifying dragon, the townspeople would feed it sheep, yet after some time the sheep would not do as the dragon became hungry for human flesh. Through a lottery process, children would be chosen as a sacrifice to this dragon until one day the king’s own daughter was selected. George, by providence, rode past the gruesome scene of the trembling princess waiting to be devoured. As the princess unsuccessfully beseeched George to leave her be, the dragon appeared in all of its demonic grandeur. George then made the Sign of the Cross and leaped upon the winged-worm crying to the princess to give him her sash. George tied the sash around the dragon and it obeyed him with a pet-like submission. Leading the dragon back to the town, George behooved its citizens to convert to Catholicism and he would slay the dragon. Fifteen thousand men converted that day and George fulfilled his promise by way of his famous sword, Ascalon, slitting the fowl throat of the terror.
Or so the legend goes….
St. George has been a man of many names: Hero, martyr, saint, patron, legend, soldier, knight. While the legend may bend the truth in many aspects, the Catholic Church holds that there seems no ground for doubting the historical existence of St. George. However, what we know as fact or fiction leaves room for debate. What we do know is that this man was someone who left a deeply stowed impression of knighthood and bravery. Oftentimes he is known as the icon of the knight. Bravery, truthfulness and gallantry seem to radiate from his legend. There are many historical figures that history has tried and failed to attach the person of St. George to. Many refer to Eusebius and his historical fight with Diocletian. However there is little factual evidence to back that link...
We all could use a good distraction at times. But what happens when the intended distraction becomes a course in elevated thinking and deeper contemplation? Word on Fire contributor Ellyn von Huben tells us how she stumbled upon one such distraction: the little-known TV show "The Booth at the End."
TV is often used like a drug. Something to take you out of the doldrums; away from the laundry, barking dogs, unsorted bills. I resort to this drug myself. There are times I am too tired to read, too unmotivated to write, clean, walk, or even do a craft project. But I still look for a diversion. There was a rainy Saturday afternoon like that. Bored with the thought of watching "Arrested Development" or "Malcolm in the Middle" reruns, I toyed with the Hulu+ selections to see if there was anything I had missed. It is usually comedy that I seek and the more absurd the better. But this time my eye was caught by something new: “The Booth At The End.” This was billed as Sci-Fi, which is a genre that I tend to avoid like to a proverbial plague. In my estimation, Sci-Fi is a plague of misshapen space creatures possessing unpronounceable names set in preposterous situations. I have been blessed with many gifts; willful suspension of disbelief is not one of them.
But “The Booth At The End” caught my eye and held my attention for way more than the usual three minutes I take before I bail on a show. That was probably because the characters were regular humans, with pedestrian names and the setting was a coffee shop not unlike the twenty-four hour a day place that I frequented in my college days. Whether we were visiting for a study break during an all-nighter or converging for sustenance after a night at the bars, I never saw a man in a back booth waiting to help those who approached to make their wishes come true. This special “Man” idling in the last booth is what makes the show’s coffee shop different. Xander Berkeley portrays the Man in a very low key way; deftly combining sang froid and compassion to give us a character who is fascinating to watch and almost impossible to read. (In season 2 he has moved to a different coffee shop. Maybe even a very special man can only loiter so long in any one establishment.)
“I heard the pastrami sandwich here is good.” (Eeew – never had pastrami. The thought of just saying the word might be a deal breaker right there for me. I’m not sure what pastrami actually is; it just sounds wrong to me.) That is the code that lets the man in the booth know that someone is there to make a deal. Word of mouth is the Man’s only promotional tool. The motivations of those who come to make a deal are diverse. Some are driven by love of a child, parent, or spouse. Others are compelled by vanity and lust...