March 8, 2009

"Like the tides of an invisible sea"

The Anchoress quoted this...

From Flannery O'Connor's letter to Alfred Corn on May 30, 1962:

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It's there, even when he can't see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian sceptism. It will keep you free -- not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your intellect or the intellects of those around you...

Faith, by the way, is transparent. You can't see it, or touch it, but you know that it is there because you see other things more clearly--faith is sort of like the glass in a diving mask. You don't see the glass itself, but you see the underwater world much more clearly, so you know it is there.

Actually, the statement that "faith lets you see things more clearly" is true of pretty much everything. You can not, for instance, be a good scientist or engineer if you do not have faith in those disciplines. (I suppose it would be possible to do science merely as an intellectual game that you do not believe in, but it never happens.) The engineer has at some point in his life had a "conversion experience," which turns many small pieces of knowledge gained in life into a meaningful whole. (Or it could be, Catholic-wise, a series of small conversions throughout life.)

I love history, and I well remember my "conversion experience" the first time an entire period of history snapped into focus as a coherent whole, rather than a collection of interesting facts. It was dazzling. (The book was The Fatal Inheritance; Philip II and the Spanish Netherlands, by Edward Grierson.) Once that happened, then I could presume that any period of history would be found to be a comprehensible whole, if I cared to delve into it. Politics, art, clothing, military tactics, religion....all would be inter-related and meaningful. I could "see" the idea, because I had faith.


Posted by John Weidner at March 8, 2009 2:11 PM
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