The morning egan with Randy Boyagoda’s talk, “Trying to say God without sounding like Marilynne Robinson.” Boyagoda’s thesis was that the first and primary purpose of literature i to increase charity and towards that end he did a dive into a novel by Mary McCarthy, The Group and a story by David Constantin, “The Loss.” This was followed by a reading from his upcoming novel, Original Prin, which sadly is to be published by a small Canadian publisher which means that it will be a challenge for me to get a hold of a copy when it comes out in the fall of 2018 (although I suppose it will be for sale when TTSG19 takes place in Toronto). One of my favorite moments from the reading was when Boyagoda read a line from his novel, “Anglicans are bashing you on Good Friday” and followed it with the comment, “That’s probable the best line I’ve written in my life.”
My second talk of the morning was Paula Huston’s “Lectio Divina: How an ancient monastic practice can revitalize literature.”
Huston proposed as a problem the idea that we are losing our ability to read deeply and well, citing as causes the internet, TV & movies and self-referntial reading, i.e., the idea that reading exists to make a personal connection with the material and being quick to dismiss work that seems unrelatable on the surface (I’m a bit ashamed to realize how much of myself I see in this latter category, although I think I’m getting better).
Her cure: simplify, practice solitude and silence and develop focus, this last being where the lectio divina comes into play. She proposes as a mode for reading to eliminate distractions, avoid making personal demands on the text, develop the ability to listen and proceed with anticipation. She also described how she applied the principles of the lectio to her writing practice where she would write blog posts inspired by photographs of nature. In this practice her guidelines were to confine herself to a tight framework, don’t think up a topic ahead of time, look at photos until one begins to “speak,” give the work total attention and don’t stop until she gets a surprise.
The final talk of the morning was my first proper panel, with John Farrell, Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Jonathan Ryan on “Finding the sacred in the profane: The role of vulgarity in religious art.”
This was structured the way that I wish more panels were, as more of an onstage conversation than as a series of independent talks, although it felt like they might have benefitted from each member of the panel having his or her own mic since the passing of the microphone took away from some of the potential for spontaneity in the conversation. The discussion was wide ranging from Hieronymous Bosch to Thirteen Reasons Why. Jonathan Ryan pointed out that there are a number of “not suitable for church” passages in the Bible itself in defense of vulgarity and the essential earthiness of the incarnational reality of Jesus.