Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hidden in Plain Sight: Biblical (il)literacy and the modern reader

I've kind of had parables on the brain the last few days. Of course, the Gospel readings that the Church's lectionary provides at this green time of the year are full of parables, and Mark Shea's recent feature article on InsideCatholic.com, “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward,” is a good exploration of why Christ so often taught in parables and, also, why he had to explain them, even though on the face of it they are quite simple moral tales. As Shea points out, what's obvious to a Christian may not be obvious to others, who have not “eyes to see nor ears to hear”; these only faith can provide.

U. S. postage stamp honoring Katherine Anne Porter
U.S. postage stamp honoring Katherine Anne Porter
However, one of the reasons I’ve been thinking about parables lately really has nothing to do with the liturgical lectionary or even the Gospels per se. In the literature class I’m currently teaching  (an introductory course that teaches the basics of literary interpretation), we’ve been studying short stories and how they work, so we’ve been reading selections that provide good illustrations of the various techniques we're discussing (plot, setting, point of view, character, etc.). Most recently, we’ve been examining Katherine Anne Porter's frequently-anthologized “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” a real literary gem. I don’t know much about Porter, other than the fact that she was a native Texan (at one time writing for a Fort Worth journal) and a convert to Catholicism (although during a long period of her life she was apparently disaffected from religion in general). I haven’t read a lot of her work, but “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” makes me want to read more.


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