Walking a Literary Labyrinth


Sister Malone's book is a vexingly disappointing effort, leaving nearly all of Tom's questions unanswered and not truly developing the thesis of the work. The book turns out to be more the literary perusals of a nun at various stages of her life. And while this holds some interest, the difficulty is that she expressly denies the intent and apparently genuinely purposes something different.

Unfortunately she doesn't achieve it. In fact, even as a "biography in letters" as it were, the book fails. There is entirely too little about the substance of what she read and how it influenced her intellectual life in any significant way.

But worse than that are numerous points at which the Sister gives me too much information. For example at one point she tells me that she would rather miss her daily required prayers than to miss her time reading. And while I can sympathize with that viewpoint, it is hardly edifying to conjure up the image of a Nun reading The Cardinal Sins in preference to evening prayer. More than that, we get a nun's lecture on reading erotic literature--by which she means such things as the collected works of John Updike. She then uses this little apparatus to give us a polemic on what is wrong with the Church's teaching on sexuality--the details of which I sha'n't regale you with, but suffice to say that it is the standard diatribe post Humanae Vitae.

Okay, so it is evident that I was never successful in separating the person of the nun from the content of the work, try as I might. Moreover, most of what I found difficult, I would have found difficult to read written by any professing Catholic. It is especially difficult coming as it were from the reserved center of the Church, and, in a way, indicative of present trials in the church. If the core is like this, what can one expect from the periphery?

I think my greatest disappointment (but one I half expected) is the fact that the wonderful and workable symbol of the labyrinth is once again dragged into the camp of those who do not really agree with church teaching. (Although I would say that Sister Malone, despite professed disagreement on many points, certainly seems to walk the walk. I think about the parable Jesus told of the two sons, one of whom said, "Go away, no way I'm going to do that," and then went and did it, the other of whom said, "Right away," and never stirred his bones. Unfortunately our witness is at least two-fold--what our lives teach and what our words teach. It were better were they consonant.)

I like the symbolism of the labyrinth--not the endless Cretan maze of lore--but the long and winding path that at one moment seems directly aimed at the goal and then in a moment takes you swooping off in another direction. That does seem to speak deeply of my spiritual journey. For short segments I'm right on and certain that I'll make it to my goal, and then for wide stretches I'm wandering around uncertain of where the center is and if I'll ever make it. The hope lies in the fact that it is a single path and the center pulls with a pull stronger than any gravity. I'm off the point here, and I'll have to get back to this idea in a different post, but the thrust here is that once again a rich symbol has been usurped by a group with whom I have little in common intellectually.

Sister Malone's book is not a scandal, nor is it a success. What it sets out to do she wanders far from leaving me alone to try to divine the answer to the question as to whether reading has a spirituality and causing me to wonder if the initial assertion of a similarity between reading and other aspects of spirituality is indeed valid. As a lifetime reader, I definitely hope so; unfortunately the book provides no ammunition or support for an exceedingly interesting notion.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 27, 2004 8:03 AM.

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