The Power of Words

If literature is a metaphor for the writer’s experience, as mirror in which that experience is at least partially reflected, it is at the same time a mirror in which the reader can also see his or her experience reflected in a new and potentially transforming way. This is what it is like to search for God in a world where cruelty and pain hide God, Dostoevski says – “How like a winter hath my absence been from thee”; how like seeing a poor woman in a dream with a starving child at her breast; how like Father Zossima kneeling down at the feet of Dmitri Karamazov because he sees that great suffering is in store for him and because he knows, as John Donne did, that suffering is holy. And you and I, his readers, come away from our reading with no more proof of the existence or nonexistence of God than we had before, with no particular moral or message to frame on the wall, but empowered by a new sense of the depths of love and pity and hope that is transmitted to us through Dostoevski’s powerful words.




Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. That, I suppose, is the final mystery as well as the final power of words: that not even across great distances of time and space do they ever lose their capacity for becoming incarnate. And when these words tell of virtue and nobility, when they move us closer to that truth and gentleness of spirit by which we become fully human, the reading of them is sacramental; and a library is as holy a place as any temple is holy because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth.


– Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember.

The Poetry of Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley wrote his most famous novel, Brave New World in 1932. He was a prophet, a man who foresaw things that were to come to pass. His criticism of technology, human relations and even on sexual promiscuity are more appropriate today than they were in the 1930’s.

Huxley however, is less known for his poetry. Here is a poem by Huxley:

Quotidian Vision

There is a sadness in the street,
And suddenly the folk I meet
Droop their heads as they walk along,
Without a smile, without a song.
A mist of cold and muffling grey
Falls, fold by fold, on another day
That dies unwept. But suddenly,
Under a tunnelled arch I see
On flank and haunch the chestnut gleam
Of horses in a lamplit steam;
And the dead world moves for me once more
With beauty for its living core.

Leo Tolstoy’s Pacifist Anarchism

Leo Tolstoy is well known for his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He is less well known for his short stories. The stories that we read in our last meeting were rather didactic and straight-forward. The author left very little to the reader’s imagination.

This can be seen as a lack of literary style or creativity. While there is no doubt the author could have embellished his stories or made them into mini-masterpieces, it appears that his desire goes far beyond writing good literature.

Young Leo TolstoyTolstoy was well known for his criticism of the Russian nobility and their ostentatious lifestyles. More than once he wanted to run away from his life as a Russian noble. He understood human flourishing as much more than having and administrating goods. His idea of being human had much more to with being good.

Our society today is more interested in “dealing goods” than in “being good”. While culturally and most certainly geographically, Russia may be thousands of kilometers from Buenos Aires, Tolstoy’s call for a more humane society rings true today in this place.

Tolstoy is also known for being an anarcho-pacifist. He insisted on nonviolent resistance as the path for a more humane society. He did not believe in the myth of redemptive violence — the idea that violence can end violence. His ideas not only found a great following in Russia, but in India and in the well with people like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tolstoy asks us today through his stories, “what do you see when you look at other people?” “Can you look past what defines them socially?” “Can you look your neighbor in the eye and see him for who he or she truly is?” His prophetic voice was certainly not silenced by his death. He is, in many ways, still present with us today.

Leo Tolstoy

Flannery O’Connor’s Revelation

“Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted.” These are the words written by Flannery O’Connor in her prayer journal sometime between January 1946 and September 1947. At this point, she did not know just how much of her work was to published and cherished by so many!

This past Thursday we learned about the great American author, Flannery O’Connor. We read her short stories “The Artificial Nigger”, “Good Country People”, “Revelation” and “Judgment Day”. Here’s the handout we shared with the group:

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor is able to arouse our sense of justice but at the same time draw us toward a greater self-awareness of who we are and how we see and treat “the other”. Her stories often mention prejudice and race in the Southern United States. Despite living in a different time and place, her words still speak clearly today and call us dwell upon what kind of people we are today. O’Connor’s revelation story can lead us to our own revelation, if we allow it to.