New Plagues This Passover

As I write this, Passover is just a little more than a week away. This year, the first night of Passover coincides with our son’s twenty-first birthday. I suspect that, instead of attending a seder (we floated the idea of his coming home from school to be with us for the first seder), he’ll be drinking a beer, his first…legal beer. That’s one loss for halakhah, Jewish ritual law (beer is clearly not kosher for Passover), and one gain for living within civil law.

I don’t think the Passover narrative is of much interest to him, at least not insofar as it tells the story of the Jews. It may be of greater interest to him as it speaks to and inspires other peoples’ national liberation struggles. Still, my wife and I are fairly certain that he, like his sisters, enjoyed our playful, imaginative seders as he was growing up.  Whether we celebrated them in our home or at the homes of our closest friends, we always sought creative ways of keeping the seder fresh and relevant.

Mah nishtana? what makes this night different from all others? the youngest at the table chant. After they finish chanting the traditional four questions, we share our own questions at this particular moment at this particular seder. Question, question, and keep questioning: that’s a Jewish value, embedded in the Passover seder. It’s one of the first things we teach our children: question everything.

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Only God is an Atheist, Part 2

It was not out of sheer flattery that Thomas Merton compared Flannery O’Connor to Sophocles, for the things at which she stared were the very pulp and pith of humanity. Her ability to express metaphysical profundities through her native vernacular is nearly as impressive as the profundities themselves. For it is one thing to express sadness with the objective correlative of a weeping violet; it is another to express the Noumenon by way of a folksy, backwoods serial killer.

In yesterday’s post, I commented on the young O’Connor’s journal to God, published in the September 16, 2013 edition of The New Yorker, insofar as it concerned her prayers about writing. Today, I’ll comment on some other aspects of the journal.

On Prayer:

Permeating both O’Connor’s correspondence and this journal is a candor about her spiritual limitations. Her thoughts about the four aspects of prayer reveal an undeveloped soul that she seeks to mature, but finds herself incapable of achieving:

Prayers should be composed I understand of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication…. It is the adoration of You, dear God, that most dismays me. I cannot comprehend the exaltation that must be due You.

She worries that her assent to adore is only intellectual, a dispassionate fiat. God must even provide the grace to adore him, she acknowledges, mystified. Still, if that is the way it must be, she asks:

Give me the grace to adore You with the excitement of the old priests when they sacrificed a lamb to You. Give me the grace to adore You with the awe that fills Your priests when they sacrifice the Lamb on our altars.

However close she came to that attitude, none can doubt the transfixion of the protagonists in Parker’s Back, The Artificial Nigger, and Wise Blood, all of whom exalt their God with scorched eyes.

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