Three More Things: Jamie Quatro, Johnny Cash, J.D. Salinger

Who else needs a break from the culture war?

1. The Oxford American has made available online Jamie Quatro’s musings on reading Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal, from the Spring 2014 issue. Those musings start:

I received Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal while in residence at the Sewanee Summer Writers’ Conference. I carried the galley around with me for a week. Dorm to lectures to lunch to workshops to readings, the book always in my backpack. I’d take it out multiple times a day, turn it over in my hands, read the press materials—then put it back. Flannery O’Connor’s prayers. Flannery O’Connor’s prayers. In her handwriting. To peer over her shoulder and read what she’d written to God, and God alone? It felt voyeuristic, uncouth. Sacrilegious, even. O’Connor’s fiction, letters, and especially her essays were of tremendous importance to me as both artist and believer. Would reading her intimate communication with God alter my perception of the feisty, guns-blazing Flannery I’d long admired and, in many ways, needed?

Surely this was holy ground. I felt I should at least remove some figurative sandals.

2. At The American Conservative, Daniel J. Flynn explores Johnny Cash’s complicated Christianity, including this:

Once the rescued had the ability to rescue, he himself needed a rescuer. Cash was a sucker. Folsom Prison inmate Glen Sherley, whose “Greystone Chapel” found its way into Cash’s set list in his famous concert at the penal institution, served as the poster child for both the country artist’s activism and his gullibility. “To Cash, Sherley, who was four years younger, was living proof of redemption, which is why he spent months lobbying California prison authorities to grant Sherley a parole,” writes Hilburn, noting that the singer “had met the man for only a few minutes.” Helping to win the release of his very own Hurricane Carter, Cash experienced Sherley’s shiftlessness and psychopathic behavior when he brought the untalented musician on tour. Sherley’s story ended with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Some people are better off stuck in Folsom Prison.

3. On Ash Wednesday, I quoted from an Andre Dubus essay on the sacramental nature of making sandwiches for your kids, of dropping them off and picking them up at school. Knocking around on the internet this week, I found this piece by Casey N. Cep at the Paris Review blog. Cep writes:

One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths.

That setting apart is the calling of Christians but also the vocation of the writer. The attentiveness of the writer is shown in how that writer lifts to the level of extraordinary the most ordinary of people, places, and things.

She even finds a fragment from Salinger’s Franny and Zooey that echoes perfectly what Dubus was getting at. “When the benignity of Bessie’s chicken soup offering goes unnoticed by Franny,” she writes, “Zooey tells his sister that ‘if it’s the religious life you want, you ought to know right now that you’re missing out on every single goddamn religious action that’s going on around this house. You don’t even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup.’”

Consecrated chicken soup. Sacramental sandwiches.

I like that.

[About the song above: “Rollerskate skinny” is a description from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and the title of a 2001 song by Dallas band the Old 97s.]


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