Ron Hansen’s A Stay Against Confusion: Essays On Faith & Fiction (A) attracted me with a chapter devoted to John Gardner. I borrowed the book from the library and quickly polished it off.
Hansen is one of those peculiar people commonly referred to as “a devout Catholic.” He begins the book with a meditation on how he fell in love with the deep power of story while attending mass as a child, and he concludes it with an ebullient essay on The Eucharist. In between there are ruminations on stigmata, various stories and films that sustain his imagination, and personalities who have Made A Difference. When I started the book, the only essay I wanted to read was the Gardner bit. But Hansen is a beguiling writer, and I found myself compelled to read even those chapters which at first blush seemed of limited interest.
This book is a declaration of love and devotion. There are many readers who will find encouragement in Hansen’s thoughtful approach to his task — for those looking for an appropriate meditation to close the final week of Lent, Hansen’s homily on Anima Christi is just the thing. Still, I have to admit I find it all a little alien. It seems to me this is a devotional impulse that almost takes root at a cellular level within the bloodstream. If that sounds cheeky, I don’t mean it to: I’m simply at a loss to understand it.
It could be that, as a member of the Church, my devotion is too mean. Also, the Catholic Church has long excelled at projecting the romance of devotion; in my tradition the romance begins with apocalyptic sects (and sex — the wiki is a little coy on this matter and mentions only the polygamy), retreats quickly into the barn and stops the door with monster of a book called The Martyr’s Mirror (W). Catholics get all those fabulous costumes; we get shunned if we wear anything with a zipper. In any case, my religious dialog begins with a grudge, and moves gradually (if at all) into the arena of glory, laud and honor.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way for everyone. If any of this is a curiosity to you, walk over to your local library and make that request. As for whether or not it’s worth the cover price, well ... was it not a Catholic who came up with, “Caveat emptor”?