29 January 2007

Spot The Rationalist.


Put me with Flannery O'Connor, who said of the Eucharist, "If it's just a symbol, then to hell with it." Here's a generally positive review of Confessions of an Amateur Believer, a memoir of an academic's coming to faith in Christ, but who is yet faithless with regard to the Sacrament, which raises many quesitons (but then I'm a professional believer):

The discipline of grammar is historically aligned with the study of rhetoric, a subject that fascinates Kirk, at least in the sense that her book develops a phenomenology of persuasion: the everyday, non-expert, experience of people who believe and disbelieve by turns. It's a theme not unfamiliar to readers of other memoirists, Buechner, Norris, and Dillard among them. Kirk's memoir shares their emphasis on everydayness and their alertness to the obstacles to belief. Like them, she knows what it is to doubt the love of God: her bout with unbelief lasted more than half of her adulthood so far. Like them, she knows what it is to doubt the love of neighbor: her experience of sexual assault left her lastingly leery of uncompassionate Christians. But unlike her best-known counterparts, she emerges from her experiences a curiously conservative evangelical, who reads her Bible every morning and goes to a non-denominational church where "the French roll and grape juice we share only symbolize Jesus' body and blood."

Even for unbelievers, close attention to the quotidian requires a kind of sacramental sense of the world. Kirk's memoir emerges from a lapsed Catholicism that doesn't believe the too-large chunks of bread her daughters tear off at the Lord's Supper are actually means of grace. Communion, she says in her essay, "In Memory of Him," "is simply a medium for reminding myself about redemption." Even so, she has a good ear for the earthy guesses that children make about sex, a clear eye for the complex relations of farmers and barns, a sacramental feel for what red ink signifies to her grammar students. For all this redemptive remembering, one narrative habit of Kirk's, I think, keeps her from opening the present as well as she might have.

 

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