Some time ago a friend who is of my faith said to me, without any sort of prompting, “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow your books in my home.” She did not elaborate. We both knew what she was talking about.
Some of my students who love their religion have asked me how I, as a writer, cope with the expectations of people in a faith community. These young writers have no desire to rebel, and yet in an effort to portray the truth, sometimes fiction offends.
When I am writing, it is between me and God. I don’t allow anything, not my parents or my religious leaders or my children or my neighbor whom I am obligated to love, to interfere with what happens when I am putting pen to paper. I find that every book I write demands that I wander in the wilderness for a time. I’ve needed not to be afraid of deserts. You cannot find the promised story without the desert part.
I have found the structure provided by my definition of morality to be as inspiring as a poet finds the structure of a sonnet. However, I must write honestly and truthfully about characters who do not know or understand my faith. They will not live by or be judged by its precepts. I am telling the truth of that character, that homeless boy, that medieval peasant girl, that prostitute. I believe in truth wherever I find it – in scripture or in the chapel at VCFA or in science or in story. I believe every human being searches for her own truth, and I respect and try my best to record that journey.
It is the first skill of the writer, and the life’s work of the faithful, to learn how to live imaginatively in the body of another being and celebrate the beauty and variety found in human souls.
I read a book some time ago called Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor, who was a devout Catholic. It was hard slogging at times because she is way too brilliant for the ordinary mind. But I found some beautiful quotes that express things I believe to be true.
“When people have told me that because I am Catholic I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am Catholic I cannot afford to be less than an artist.”
“It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life…”
“If writing is your vocation, then, as a writer, you will seek the will of God first through the laws and limitations of what you are creating; your first concern will be the necessities that present themselves in the work.”
Thank you, Ms. O’Connor.