"Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, September 19, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: Meriam Ibrahim

There is no finer example of faith in action as that of Mariam Ibrahim.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the Christian woman who was held in a Sudanese jail refusing to convert to Islam.  Pregnant and with her little toddler son beside her, she had to give birth in leg shackles.  If you haven’t heard of her, here is asummary article going back to August 1st when she was granted asylum in the United States.  

A Sudanese woman who faced the death penalty for refusing to recant her Christian faith has arrived in New Hampshire, ready to begin a new life.

Meriam Ibrahim, her husband and the couple’s two children arrived Thursday night at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, where they were greeted by a throng of supporters from the city’s Sudanese community before getting into an SUV and leaving the airport, the New Hampshire Union Leader reports.

“Thank you so much,” her husband, Daniel Wani, told reporters. “I am so relieved.”

Ibrahim, who met Pope Francis at the Vatican last week after fleeing the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, did not speak.

You’ll have read the whole article to get the full story and see what Christians face in Muslim countries.  But here is her first interview, and it’s a doozey!  This woman’s faith is incredible.  This is a must see interview with Megyn Kelly of FOX News.





That is so stirring.  How many of us would have such courage?  Two noteworthy quotes:

“I had my trust in God; my faith was the only weapon that I had in these confrontations with Imams and Muslim scholars.”

“Faith means life; if you don’t have faith, you don’t have life.”


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Literature In The News: “The First Great Queens Novel”

What a surprise this evening to find as I sat down to dinner reading the NY Post  that John Podhoretz, normally a political commentator, wrote a book review in his column.  Podhoretz   regularly writes for the NY Post (actually he was its Op-Ed editor a few years ago) and now serves as editor for Commentary magazine.  Podhoretz is also the son of well respected Conservative writer, Norman Podhoretz. 

“The first great novel of Queens” is what he called Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel

It’s a magnificent piece of work, not only the best first novel in memory but the best American novel in a very long time.

In its 640 pages, Thomas relates the heartrendingly intimate story of a small Irish Catholic family over the course of more than 60 years — and almost offhandedly tells an equally powerful and broader tale about the changes in New York and America over that same time.

Eileen Tumulty is the only child of working-class Irish immigrants living in Woodside. Her mother is a cleaning woman at the Bulova Watch factory in Astoria; her father drives a truck for the Schaefer Brewery.

I have not read the novel, nor have I even heard of Matthew Thomas.  What struck me was Podhoretz referred to the work as set in Queens, NY, which as New Yorkers know is part of New York City.  New York City for those that don’t know is composed of five boroughs, Manhattan, The Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens.  Manhattan and The Bronx constitute the original city.   Brooklyn, which comprised of Kings County and Queens County,  had been its own city until 1898 when it joined with New York City, across the river.  Kings County took on the name of Brooklyn for its borough name, and Queens County simply took on Queens.  Staten Island was also added in 1898 to form the five boroughs.    

There have been lots of novels set in Manhattan.  Henry James and Edith Wharton both had several.  J. D. Salinger, Don DeLillo, Tom Wolf, and Paul Auster famously come to mind.  Also numerous books have been set in Brooklyn, the borough where I grew up.  Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is most memorable, and others by Bernard Malamud, Chaim Potock, Jonathan Lentham, and you can find “9 Great Novels” listed here.  But as to the other three boroughs, one is hard pressed to really come up with anything.  The famous crash scene in The Great Gatsby happens in Queens, but for the most part the novel oscillates between Manhattan and Long Island.  You can find a fascinating list of novels set in New York City here.  If you go through each one, you might find one set in the outer boroughs, but I didn’t have the time to do so.  But as a lifelong New Yorker (except for my birthplace)– grew up in Brooklyn, living most of my adult life on Staten Island—I should read a few of them.  As I scan the list, I’ve probably only read seven or eight.

As to Podhoretz’s review, I can’t say it’s a great review.  He practically runs through the whole plot without seeming to get to the heart of the work.  If anything is the kernel of the work, perhaps it’s this:

Eileen’s dissatisfactions are subsumed in her deep commitment to duty and love in the course of what may be the finest fictional portrait I’ve ever read of a family coping with a degenerative disease.

Eileen sacrifices herself. Connell, who worships his dad, can’t bear to see him slip away — and toys with discarding not only his mother’s hopes for him but his own ambitions as well, in a self-abnegating journey back to the working class that his parents had so painstakingly pulled themselves out of.

It does sound interesting.  It sounds very New York.  Podhoretz adds this little tidbit on Matthew Thomas.

Thomas, 38, was a teacher at Xavier HS in Manhattan who wrote the book in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens he shared with his wife (and, eventually, their twins).

He sold “We Are Not Ourselves” to Simon and Schuster for a million-dollar advance after 10 years of work, a rare feel-good story for American publishing in the 21st century.

His gorgeous book represents the literary redemption of his family, his people . . . and his borough.




I love redemption novels.  I might just pick it up, though it’s long for a work that’s not an avowed classic for me to read.  If anyone reads it, let me know what you thought.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Personal Note: Baltimore Orioles Win Division Title

Wooohooo!  They clinched it tonight!  The last time the Baltimore Orioles, my favorite team going back to when I was eight years old, won the Division title was 1997.  And in the intervening years there were 14 consecutive losing seasons, and a good portion of them in last place. Fourteen years is a quarter of my life.  You don’t know the blood, sweat, and tears I’ve shed for my Orioles.







But tonight they did it!!!!!  American League Eastern Division Champions!  Here's a great little video of some of the season's highlights.





And they did it with still two weeks to go until the playoffs.  I can’t wait.  The rest of these games aren’t going to be meaningful.  Just give the starters rest while keeping them sharp.  If I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow I would be popping a bottle of Champagne myself!

Music Tuesday: The Star Spangled Banner - UPDATED

Our national anthem celebrated its two hundredth birthday.  I caught a little of the celebration in Baltimore as I watched the Baltimore Orioles play the New York Yankees on TV.  The Orioles had special uniforms made for the occasion.  [For those that don’t know, I am a HUGE Baltimore Orioles fan, and they are having a magical year!]

As many of you know, The Star Spangled Banner was composed as a result of a battle of Fort McHenry outside of Baltimore during the War of 1812.    

What I was surprised to learn was that Francis Scott Key wrote the song while on a British ship.  He had boarded to negotiate an exchange of prisoners, and since they had overheard about the battle plans were held captive until the battle was over.  So Francis Scott Key on September 14th, 1814 watched the British bombardment of his home city from an enemy vessel and watched as the attack failed.  How much emotion must have gone into that song as he watched the stars and stripes wave defiantly?

All Americans know that first stanza and I’ll reproduce it here because it’s so stirring.

O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
 What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
 Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
 O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
 And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
 Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
 O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
 O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

My heart stirs whenever the singer reaches the “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave” line.  But there are three more stanzas we never hear, and perhaps it’s a good thing.  They don’t seem nearly as stirring as the first.  You can read the other stanzas on the Wikipedia entry.


First, here is a dramatic telling of the history of the song.  Caution.  If you’re an old Conservative like me, it might bring a tear to your eye. 





I have to agree with those who claim that the best all time rendition of The Star Spangled Banner was given by Whitney Huston at the Super Bowl in 1991.





Boy she could sing.  If you know of a better rendition or a favorite , post the link.  I would love to hear it.

UPDATE: 16 September 2014, 8:29 PM, EST

While I was singing the song this morning I realized why that penultimate line is so stirring.  It’s poetic effect.  Every line but that one has a caesura in it.  A caesura is a natural pause in the line built in by the syntax.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesura  I’ll show you with the first two lines.  The double slash indicates the pause break, or caesura.

O say can you see // by the dawn's early light,
 What so proudly we hailed // at the twilight's last gleaming,


So when we get to the seventh line and it doesn’t have a pause, the effect is a forward marching thrust:  “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave.”  And it’s no coincidence that the climax of the stanza is in that line, the flag defiantly waving.  And then when the caesura returns in the last line, it provides a coming home closure.   Nicely done.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Photo Essay: Wolf Sanctuary

I realized that over the course of the past year or so I’ve promised several photo essays from pictures I took.  I’m sorry, I’ve been delinquent.  And I bet many of you would actually prefer pictures to my “stodgy” old literary analyses. 

Here’s one I had promised after last year’s vacation to central Pennsylvania where we went to Amish countryDutch Wonderland, the railroad Museum, and to the Wolf Sanctuary of PA.  I didn’t post any pictures from the Wolf Sanctuary because I said I would reserve a photo essay post especially for it.  Here is that post.

I think the vacation was about thirteen months ago, so I’m afraid a bit has been lost in my memory.  When I found out there was a wolf sanctuary nearby, it was a must to visit.  Matthew didn’t really care for it, I have to admit.  He was just under four years old at the time.  I loved it, and I think my wife did as well.  I don’t remember if it was actually free, but it was very inexpensive, and they kind of twist your arm for a donation.  It was not pricey. 

If you’re a reader of my blog, you know I’m a lover of canines, and the wolf is the preeminent canine.  Now I don’t claim to be an expert, but here’s what knowledge I’ve gathered on wolves and dogs.  Dogs and humans exist in a very similar wave length.  We are so compatible that I don’t think any other creature comes close.  I’m convinced we evolved together.  We are both social creatures, and we socialize with each other.  At least we do with dogs.  Wolves, while nearly a dog and can interbreed with a dog, is wired in the brain just a little differently.  A wolf can’t become domesticated.  It seems to as a pup, but once it reaches a certain age it will separate from its human bond.  It may even turn on you, but to some degree it does seem to respect your being as some sort of simpatico.  Many people have tried to domesticate them but it’s a rare thing for it to have worked out.  So there are a number of wolf sanctuaries across the country where people can give up the creature and let him live in an environment he is accustomed to. 

This sanctuary in Pennsylvania seems to be a particularly good one.  It’s run completely by volunteers and you have to be schooled to an astonishing high level of training to become a trainer (?).  Actually that’s not the title given to those who assist but I can’t remember what it was.  Wolves there are separated into packs, and they had a very deliberate process on introducing wolves to packs.  Packs don’t necessarily accept outside wolves. 

The one thing I absolutely remember was the smell.  Wolves do not smell like dogs.  I was surprised.  It was a very sharp, penetrating, wild aroma, not pleasant at all.  I don't know how to describe it.  At first I think I wanted to vomit, but then I got used to it.  Here are some pictures.

Here is a small pack of three.  If you go to the Wolf Sanctuary of PA website, you might find the names of the various packs and individual wolves.  There is no way I can remember now.




And a close up of one of them.





Here’s another pack, but I think this one is mostly of hybrids.  By the way, there is ample room behind for each pack; I think they are given natural amount of territory.  A large number of the wolves at the sanctuary are mixes of dog and wolf.  People think they can breed out the wolf biology, but it takes more than a few generations.





This one in the front seems to have the color of a Golden Retriever, clearly a mix.

Here are some more.










Here’s a rather large pack.




By the way, the reason they have congregated to the fence is because the trainer is feeding them.




Here’s an older one.




Finally I want to post a few pictures of Billy.  I distinctly remember this one, though I had to look his name up on the website.  Billy was the model of the wolves.  Whenever you see a wolf in a movie or picture, there is a good chance Billy was used.  He has the size and coloring of what we all imagine a wolf to look like.  Unfortunately I found out that Billy died during the course of this past year.  He died from canine bloat, which is a circumstance where the stomach and intestines twist and cut off the blood supply.  It happens in large dogs.














But wasn’t he magnificent?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: September 11

Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of that horrible day.  One day I will write an account of my experiences of that day.  I remember the whole day and into the next as if it were recent.  It’s hard to believe thirteen years have passed.  I still haven’t gotten over it.  It’s all a mix of anger and sadness.  Profound sadness.  I found this prayer specifically for the occasion.  It seems to come from a Catholic Church in Massachusetts, St. Charles Borromeo.



Jesus,
beloved Savior,
in remembering
these terrible events,
we recognize our great need
for Your guidance and protection.
We have painfully learned
that our country is vulnerable
and that violence can disrupt
both individuals and nations.
We pray then for healing
for all the people whose lives
were shattered in the attacks.
We pray for those
who defend our freedom.
We pray for wisdom
for our national leaders.
We pray for peace,
for our country and our world.
Jesus, beloved Savior,
as we remember,
hold us in Your loving hands.
Amen



Please, don’t ever forget.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Short Story Analysis: “Greenleaf” by Flannery O’Connor, Part 1

The best way I think to approach an analysis of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Greenleaf” is to initially disengage the surface narrative (the present time sequence of events) from the back story.  The total story comprises the surface narrative and the backfilled events, details, and personalities that give context to the surface narrative.  The surface narrative here comprises of finding a stray bull on Mrs. May’s property, trying to get the bull off the property, and then finally killing the bull in the story’s dramatic and contorted climax.  (I personally never feel anguish from spoiling endings, so, beware, I will eventually divulge it.)  The back story is a study of contrasts, a contrast between families, that of Mrs. May and her boys against Mr. Greanleaf and his family and a contrast in values.  Let’s start with the back story and understand the context, and then move to the surface narrative, and its relationship to the back story, and then finally understand and assess the climax, which I can’t quite make up my mind as to its worthiness.  Perhaps as I write this, I will reach a decision.

The most distinguishing difference between the May’s and the Greenleaf’s is notion of class.  Mrs. May considers herself to have come from a higher class.  Her husband was a businessman, which in the milieu of the south during the first half of the twentieth century carried the implication of someone more well-to-do than your average Southern white laborer.  And given the South’s consciousness toward gentility, the May’s were probably gentry if not quite patrician, since her husband still worked for a living.  That is, until her husband died, and if I do the timeline, he died premature, since Scofield, the eldest son, would have been twenty-one.  If May’s are gentry then the Greenleaf’s are lower class, “scrub-human” as Mrs. May refers to them.  Mr. Greenleaf is a hired hand, and not particularly an ambitious person.  When the bull first woke her up in the middle of the night, she was tempted to get dressed and go to the Greenleaf’s house to get Mr. Greenleaf.

Weighing it, she decided not to bother Mr. Greenleaf.  She returned to bed thinking that if the Greenleaf boys had risen in the world it was because she had given their father employment when no one would have had him.  She had had Mr. Greenleaf fifteen years but no one else would have had him five minutes.  Just the way he approached an object was enough to tell anybody with eyes what kind of a worker he was.  He walked with a high shouldered creep and he never appeared to come directly forward.  He walked on the perimeter of some invisible circle and if you wanted to look him in the face, you had to move and get in front of him.  She had not fired him because she always doubted she could do better.  He was too shiftless to go out and look for another job; he didn’t have the initiative to steal, and after she had told him three or four times to do a thing, he did it; but he never told her about a sick cow until it was too late to call the veterinarian and if her barn had caught on fire, he would have called his wife to see the flames before he began to put them out.  And of the wife, she didn’t even like to think.  Beside the wife, Mr. Greenleaf was an aristocrat.

If there is anyone who is the complete contrast to Mrs. May, it’s Mrs. Greenleaf, a “large and loose woman” who’s “yard around her house looked like a dump and her five girls were always filthy; even the youngest one dipped snuff.”  Contrast that to Mrs. May’s skinny, wiry frame and obsession to keeping her property cultivated and proper.  The contrast is acute, a country gentlewoman versus a junkyard mongrel, prim versus unwashed.    

Not only is there a class distinction, but Mrs. May has an obsession with the rising of the under classes to supersede her station.  As it turns out Mr. Greenleaf’s twin sons, E.T. and O.T, have risen in life.  Yes, they have their parent’s lower class idiom, but through work and good luck they have built up a farm that has surpassed Mrs. May’s. 

The Greenleaf boys were two or three years younger than the May boys.  They were twins and you never knew when you spoke to one of them whether you were speaking to O.T. or E.T, and they never had the politeness to enlighten you.  They were long-legged and red-skinned, with bright grasping fox-colored eyes like their father’s.  Mr. Greenleaf’s pride in them began with the fact that they were twins.  He acted, Mrs. May said, as if this were something smart they had thought up themselves.  They were energetic and hard-working and she would admit to anyone they had come a long way—and that the Second World War was responsible for it.

They had joined the service and, disguised in their uniforms, they could not be told from other people’s children.  You could tell, of course, when they opened their mouths but they did that seldom.  The smartest thing they had done was to get sent overseas and there marry French wives.  They hadn’t married French trash either.  They had married nice girls who naturally couldn’t tell that they murdered the King’s English or that the Greenleaf’s were who they were….They had both managed to get wounded and now they both had pensions.  Further, as soon as they were released from the army, they took advantage of all the benefits and went to the school of agriculture at the university—the taxpayers meanwhile supporting the French wives.  The two of them were living now about two miles down the highway on a piece of land the government had helped them buy and in a brick duplex bungalow that the government had helped them build and pay for.  If the war had made anyone, Mrs. may said, it had made the Greenleaf boys.  They each had three little children apiece, who spoke Greenleaf English and French, and who, on account of their mother’s background, would be sent to the convent school and brought up with manners.  “And in twenty years,” Mrs. May asked Scofield and Wesley, “do you know what those people will be?”

Society,” she said blackly.

One has to take with a grain of salt all of the apparent gratuities the government has provided the Greenleaf boys.  This was all told from Mrs. May’s point of view, and you can tell she feels a certain anxiety to events stacked against her life and stacked for others.  Obviously the French wives found something attractive in the men.  It’s also hard to imagine the government giving all those benefits.  The point is that Mrs. May feels a suspicion—a conspiracy—that fate is working against her and for them.  But the Greenleaf boys both ended their military service as “some kind of sergeants” while Schofield, Mrs. May’s eldest son ended as a Private First Class, and Wesley didn’t serve at all due to his poor health.  Those facts aren’t part of any conspiracy.

If the Greenleaf boys flourish, there is something stunted about the May boys.  Both are in their thirties—Scofield thirty-six and presumably Wesley a few years younger—unmarried, and lead somewhat dysfunctional lives.  Scofield is a business man similar to his father, but one reduced to selling insurance of the kind “that only Negroes buy.”  It must be an inexpensive type, but what’s significant about it is he’s fallen a rung on the ladder of society when compared to his father.   What concerns his mother is that “nice girls” are just not interested in him.  We don’t quite understand why.  He is personable and has a broad smile, but there is just something creepy enough about him that must turn nice girls off.  On a number of occasions we see a sense of humor that cuts to the bone, a mean spiritedness. 

If Scofield is creepy, Wesley is downright macabre.  He is “an intellectual,” teaching at the local university.  He had rheumatic fever as a child, and this apparently had altered his personality, at least according to his mother.  He too has problems with women.

Scofield only exasperated her [Mrs. May] beyond endurance but Wesley caused her real anxiety.  He was thin and nervous and bald and being an intellectual was a terrible strain on his disposition.  She doubted if he would marry until she died but she was certain that then the wrong woman would get him.  Nice girls didn’t like Scofield but Wesley didn’t like nice girls.  He didn’t like anything.  He drove twenty miles every day to the university where he taught and twenty miles back every night, but he said he hated the twenty-mile drive and he hated the second-rate university and he hated the morons who attended it.  He hated the country and he hated the life he lived; he hated living with his mother and his idiot brother and he hated hearing about the damn dairy and the damn help and the damn broken machinery.  But in spite of it all he said, he never made any move to leave.  He talked about Paris and Rome but he never went even to Atlanta.

I think the undercurrent to the May boy’s personalities can be summed up with the word, sterility.  They are a dead end.  There is no fruitfulness to their lives.  Their jobs are monotonous; their love lives are perverse; their happiness is nonexistent.  Compare that with the Greenleaf boys who prosper at their farm, marry interesting women, and each have a flock of children. 

But the contrast of families goes even further.  Despite the initial poverty and the lower class outlook habits which cause derision, the Greenleaf family is a harmonious one.  Mr. Greenleaf is always ready to express pride in his sons, and even his wife, who is rather odd, and of which I’ll get to in a moment.  O’Connor suggests this by making the two boys twins, and they work together as a harmonious unit.  Even their names E.T. and O.T are just a blur of a letter.  They are indistinguishable.  What is suggested is a brotherhood of men who help each to form one family.  In contrast, the May family is dysfunctional.  The two boys are “as different…as night and day.  The only thing they had in common was that neither of them cared what happened on the place.”  Not caring what happens on the place is the same as not caring for their family.  At one point the two boys torment their mother by jesting they are not really her sons.  At another point, in response to Mrs. May claiming she prevented the boys from getting up early and milking cows for the household, Wesley turns to her and says, “I wouldn’t milk a cow to save your soul from hell.”  If the Greenleaf’s represent a brotherhood of men, the May’s represent a family at war.  The jokes between them are not harmless fun.  They aim to cut and to hurt.  The family doesn’t bond; it pulls apart.  The scene where Scofield and Wesley physically altercate indicates a division of brothers.

 What these individual contrasts lead to is a more general contrast of approaches to life.  Mrs. May has tried to control her life, at least since her husband died, but probably before that too.  As a widow who was not left good finances, she put her situation in order and built the farm.  “Her city friends,” we are told, “said she was the most remarkable person they knew, to go, practically penniless and with no experience, out to a rundown farm and make a success of it.”  She’s the one who controls Mr. Greenleaf; she’s the one who arranged for her sons to not have to work the farm; she’s the one who fights the elements, fights the “conspiracies,” and, more importantly, fights fate itself.

“Everything is against you,” she would say, “the weather is against you and the dirt is against you and the help is against you.  They’re all in league against you.  There’s nothing for it but an iron hand.”

Her life is lived by that “iron hand,” which is to say she lives by force of will.  Scofield loves to ridicule her “iron hand.”

“Look at Mamma’s iron hand!” Scofield would yell and grab her arm and hold it up so that her delicate blue-veined little hand would dangle from her wrist like the head of a broken lily.”

Notice the difference between the reality of her little delicate hand versus her metaphoric iron hand.  The reality is that she’s not in as control as she thinks she is.  Then in a moment when her sons ridicule her for thinking about their future when she’s dead, her will tightens.

For some time she sat where she was, looking straight ahead through the window across the room into a scene of indistinct grays and greens.  She stretched her face and her neck muscles and drew in a long breath but the scene in front of her flowed together anyway into a watery grey mass.  “They needn’t think I’m going to die any time soon,” she muttered, and some more defiant voice in her added: I’ll die when I’m good and ready.

Not only is she trying to control her sons’ lives after she dies, but she thinks she can control her own fate, which is ironic given her unexpected death at the story’s conclusion. 

The Greenleafs on the other hand “lived like lilies of the field.”  The phrasing is striking.  Mrs. May’s hand is like “broken lily” while the Greenleafs are compared to flourishing lilies.  That’s actually a biblical allusion and worth quoting since it characterizes both the May’s and the Greenleafs, albeit in opposite directions.  From the Gospel of Matthew (6:25-34, NASB), my emphasis in bold, Christ says,

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

In contrast to Mrs. May putting her trust in her will, the Greenleafs put their trust in God.  They have setbacks; they’re not rich.  Yes they prosper, through work as seen with the two sons, but they don’t obsess over things and fate has a way of working out.  None of the Greenleafs ever show anxiety, even with an escaped bull on the loose.  They don’t try to control.  And they thank God for their good fortune.  “I thank Gawd for ever-thang,” Mr. Greenleaf “drawled” once to Mrs. May, and he meant it.  On the other hand Mrs. May is a “good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true.”   The Greenleafs, poor as they are, have seven children, which suggests lack of forethought; Mrs. May has two, which suggests regulation.

And then there is Mrs. Greenleaf, a woman completely antithetical to Mrs. May.  Unlike Mrs. May’s controlled bearing, Mrs. Greenleaf goes through daily charismatic prayer, and by charismatic one means a complete emotional loss of oneself into the divine.  She performs daily prayer healing.

Every day she cut out all the morbid stories out of the newspaper—the accounts of women who had been raped and criminals who had escaped and children who had been burned and of train wrecks and plane crashes and the divorces of movie stars.  She took these to the woods and dug a hole and buried them and then she fell on the ground over them and mumbled and groaned for an hour or so moving her huge arms back and forth under her and out again and finally just lying down flat and Mrs. May suspected, going to sleep in the dirt.


And later, apparently waking up, “out of nowhere a guttural agonized voice groaned, ‘Jesus!  Jesus!’  In a second it came again with a terrible urgency.  ‘Jesus!  Jesus!’”  And later we see Mrs. Greenleaf fall “back flat in the dirt, a huge human mound, her legs and arms spread out as if trying to wrap them around the earth,” an embrace of the supernatural.  Later Mrs. May would tell Mr. Greenleaf that his wife “has let religion warp her.”  And Mr. Greenleaf responded, “She cured a man oncet that half his gut was eaten out with worms.”  O’Connor’s point isn’t that this sort of simplistic understanding of religion is fact but that such faith is beneficial as it permeates the Greenleaf’s lives.  Such trust in God washes away class distinction, builds a brotherhood of men, nourishes lives, and flourishes with fertility.  The Mays are arid and barren.  One of the most significant moments in the story comes when Wesley who, after being lectured by his mother on being practical, turns to her and says, “Well, why don’t you do something practical, Woman?  Why don’t you pray for me like Mrs. Greenleaf would?”