“Wait, don’t bite”
Flannery O’Connor would have been eighty-four today — the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Many of her stories involved some kind of annunciation, some short encounter that changes everything (think of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”). She rarely wrote directly about the events of the Gospel, but her fiction recapitulated those events in surprising ways. O’Connor used the shocks and displacements of modernism to rescue our sense of the supernatural from old formulas. Pound said, “Make it new,” and she did. The risen Christ says, “Behold, I make all things new,” and O’Connor wrote stories that startled many readers into beholding him as if for the first time.
Here’s a short passage from a letter she wrote to Alfred Corn on May 30, 1962. Corn was a college student at the time, and worried he was losing his faith:
What kept me a sceptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read…. Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian skepticism. It will keep you free — not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you.