In A Stay Against Confusion, Essays on Faith and Fiction, the novelist Ron Hansen, Arts and Humanities professor at Santa Clara University, quotes the poet Robert Frost (1874-1963):
(A poem) begins in delight and ends in wisdom, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and depends in a clarification of life – not necessarily in a great clarification… but in a momentary stay against confusion.
Our world is chaotic and confusing, and seemingly more so as we travel through time at an ever-quickening pace. Electronics have exploded our hours, shattering our days into bursts of activity, as we point and click, tap and swipe, answer and respond, text and email, moving on to the next message and messaging the next move. Rather than making our world more meaningful or organized or satisfying or even beautiful, we feel like hamsters racing on a wheel. Are we there yet? And where are we going?
Not only are we barraged by information and time demands, but our lack of common cultural assumptions with no governing philosophy has encouraged fragmented thought, opinion, and propaganda veiled as ideas. How do we choose what or who to believe?
So when words strike a chord in our hearts as true, we have a momentary stay against the confusion. A poem, or poetic language, provides this epiphany, this moment of clarity. I would add it helps that the image is beautiful as well as true, that it answers despair with hope and suffering with redemption. We want answers to questions deep within us.
Ron Hansen describes good fiction as beginning in the natural world and flying into the supernatural, super-natural in the sense that goodness, truth, and beauty claim our hearts in this stay against confusion. We must write about the real world, with real senses, real passions, real loves and real hates. But at some point grace descends upon the battlefield of our lives and those lives we are creating. Grace is this poetic action of light in the darkness. As Christians we call this God’s grace. Others might simply call it art.
The music, the art, and the books that sing to me do just this. In a novel, the story, and above all the diction, invites me into the heart of a rose, calls me to fly with angels. I laugh and I cry from a place deep within, a place that knows these notes, recognizes a heavenly chorus. In a sense I am in love.
I have recently fallen in love with a collection of songs sung by an order of Dominican nuns. The music soars and dives and circles my ears with words and melody that enraptures, captures. It has surprised me that I could be so in love. The tunes haunt me at night and I wake mouthing the phrases; I am so very thankful for this bit of heavenly beauty. They are the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist: https://www.sistersofmary.org/ and the CD is called “Mater Eucharistiae.” You can hear a bit of the music by scrolling down to the video: https://www.sistersofmary.org/our-news/news.html. The order appears to be growing, and many of the nuns are young, part of a new Catholic renaissance. Visit them on Facebook.
The CD provides a “stay against confusion.” It corrals the chaos and conflicting demands upon my mind with its beauty. Father Malachy’s Miracle by Bruce Marshall did this too, as I tried to say in my review (http://catholicfiction.net/book-review/father-malachys-miracle/ ). Mr. Marshall, through his language and homely humor, brought me to a similar place of sanity. Also, Meriol Trevor’s Shadows and Images (review online at http://catholicfiction.net/book-review/shadows-and-images-a-novel/) brought me into the mind and heart of John Henry Newman, an Anglo-Catholic who made the journey to Roman Catholicism. Ms. Trevor writes with this same poetic diction. I also found this kind of sanity in Susan Prudhomme’s novels, The Forest and The Wisdom of Ambrose, also reviewed on CatholicFiction.net.
I pray that my own words are painted by such grace, pulling readers into a land of truth and beauty. The reviews of my just released novel, The Magdalene Mystery, have been encouraging, the most recent by novelist Bruce Judisch (the giveaway is still on): http://brucejudisch.blogspot.com/.
Today our parish celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. It is a time when we consider the kingdom over which Christ reigns. And I have found, through faithful prayer and worship, that the kingdom is all around us. Every moment of grace, God’s action upon us, opens our eyes, invites us through the doors of his kingdom, calls us with a poetry of goodness, truth, and beauty. There are times when I feel as though I straddle the border between two kingdoms, one of earth and one of heaven, but more and more I am integrating them. More and more the kingdoms weave together to form a garment of glory, a cloak of sanity in our world of confusion. We call this cloak, incarnation. We call this garment, the sacramental life. We call this the action of grace. And we thank God for every stay against confusion.