baptism: restoring what was LOST

In his message for Lent 2011, Pope Benedict XVI invites us to enter more deeply into the grace of our baptism:

By immersing ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are moved to free our hearts every day from the burden of material things, from a self-centered relationship with the “world” that impoverishes us and prevents us from being available and open to God and our neighbor. In Christ, God revealed himself as Love (cf. 1 Jn 4: 7-10). The Cross of Christ, the “word of the Cross”, manifests God’s saving power (cf. 1 Cor 1: 18), that is given to raise men and women anew and bring them salvation: it is love in its most extreme form (cf. Encyclical Deus caritas est, n. 12).

A few years ago, I noticed how clearly this theme of baptism as a life-giving death, and as a dynamism making our hearts capable of loving, emerged in the concluding episodes of the third season of the television show LOST.

*** SPOILER WARNING for those who haven’t seen season 3 ***

And so I created a short multimedia presentation to examine the theme of baptism on this television show. Click here to watch the presentation.

LOST may be finding its way with Flannery

I have been a long-time fan of the TV show LOST, but I was especially intrigued by the reference to Flannery O’Connor in the season 5 finale last night. Near the end of the first hour of the finale, a character we have never seen before — Jacob — is shown reading a copy of Everything That Rises Must Converge.

I haven’t watched the second hour of the finale yet, so I’m going to wait before commenting on the significance.

Here’s an article in the Union Recorder about the O’Connor reference. A snip:

Executive Producer Carlton Cuse says that O’Connor’s influence weighs in on his and partner Damon Lindelof’s writing of the show.

“Flannery O’Connor’s use of Christian theology in concert with sudden, unexpected violence was inspiring to us,” Cuse told The Union-Recorder. “She was truly an exceptional writer.”

Craig Amason, executive director of the Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation said that he was alerted by O’Connor’s publisher that the title would be a prop in the show.

“It’s just one more example of how influential Flannery O’Connor’s work is with pop culture. Over and over again we see this,” Amason said. “The lines from the Joker in [the film] ‘The Dark Knight’ could have come straight from ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ or ‘The Misfit.’ Pop culture is fascinated with Flannery O’Connor’s work. It is obviously a huge hit.”

With so many storylines running in so many directions, it seems only natural that at some point, they would intersect, or converge. When asked if the nod to O’Connor was a clue for “LOST” addicts who watch episodes looking for hidden meaning, Cuse wouldn’t say.

“Damon and I try not to specifically interpret why we place any particular book in the show,” he said. “We hope viewers will explore the books and find their own answers.”

Even if the rest of the LOST franchise jumps the shark, the interest it has stirred in O’Connor’s work will be salutary for those in the audience who will now discover her for the first time.

In the RCIA Hollywood program which I co-taught with Barbara Nicolosi, we’ve used several of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, including The Geranium (to talk about human freedom) and The River (to talk about baptism). Interestingly enough, last year we used both The River and video clips from the Season 3 finale of LOST for our class on the sacrament of baptism. Here’s a link to the materials from this class, including an audio podcast, a PDF version of The River, and a Flash presentation on baptism in LOST. It’s the second audio podcast that gets into a discussion of The River.

Other Flannery stuff: My lame attempt to adapt A Good Man Is Hard to Find into a screenplay (as an adaptation exercise in my first screenwriting class); a discussion of the Flannery-esque elements in the movie 21 Grams; and an audio podcast (with accompanying slides) from Barbara Nicolosi’s presentation on “What Flannery Knew” from last October’s Story Symposium in Hollywood.

Finally, read my favorite essay by Flannery O’Connor — The Church and the Fiction Writerhere.

Some favorite quotes:

For the writer of fiction, everything has its testing point in the eye, an organ which eventually involves the whole personality and as much of the world as can be got into it. Msgr. Romano Guardini has written that the roots of the eye are in the heart. In any case, for the Catholic they stretch far and away into those depths of mystery which the modern world is divided about — part of it trying to eliminate mystery while another part tries to rediscover it in disciplines less personally demanding than religion….

It is generally supposed, and not least by Catholics, that the Catholic who writes fiction is out to use fiction to prove the truth of the Faith, or at the least, to prove the existence of the supernatural. He may be. No one certainly can be sure of his low motives except as they suggest themselves in his finished work, but when the finished work suggests that pertinent actions have been fraudulently manipulated or overlooked or smothered, whatever purposes the writer started out with have already been defeated. What the fiction writer will discover, if he discovers anything at all, is that he himself cannot move or mold reality in the interests of abstract truth. The writer leans, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what-is. What-is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them.

Henry James said that the morality of a piece of fiction depended on the amount of “felt life” that was in it. The Catholic writer, insofar as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has, for all its honor, been found by God to be worth dying for. But this should enlarge, not narrow, his field of vision. To the modern mind… this is warped vision which “bears little or no relation to the truth as it is known today.” The Catholic who does not write for a limited circle of fellow Catholics will in all probability consider that, since this is his vision, he is writing for a hostile audience, and he will be more concerned to have his work stand on its own feet and be complete and self-sufficient and impregnable in its own right. When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist….

If the average Catholic reader could be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be more of a Manichean than the Church permits. By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliche and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence, and that innocence, whenever is is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite. We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. Pornography, on the other hand, is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from its meaning in life as to make it simply an experience for its own sake.

Love her. That last line alone is perhaps the most stinging indictment of pornography (and its bedfellow, contraception) I have ever read. Modern man has an essentially sentimental attitude about sex. We are all about skipping past the cross to the eschaton, but this is a fundamentally dishonest way of relating to the world.

More on Flannery and LOST after I’ve seen the entire season 5 finale…