Friday, April 6, 2012

Power Play

Here on this Good Friday I will offer a few thoughts on Lions, Hearts, Leaping Does and Other Stories, by J.F. Powers.  I picked up this used copy of Powers's early collected works (Time Books) in a South Haven, Michigan bookstore this past Tuesday.  I was suprised to find this copy, and was not disappointed in these tales, all published in the 1940s/1950s, principally in The New Yorker and The Partisan Review (a once-luminous literary journal that served as the trade winds for exceptional writers).

Having first become acquainted with Powers at Duke University through his novel, Like Wheat that Springeth Green, I quickly became a fan of this Roman Catholic writer who, for some reason, sallied-forth with a lifetime body of work that was (with the exception of one novel and only one short story) infatuated with the domestic and personal lives of priests.  Powers is both comic and tragic in his approach to the priesthood, and one wonders how he was able to quilt his patchwork of insights, conversations and struggles about priests into such intricate cloth, having never been a priest himself.

Much like Evelyn Waugh, Powers holds court in two camps at once, and one gets the idea that this Midwestern-born (Illinois) writer kept a constant vigil organizing and recording the idiosyncrasies and conversations that informed his work.

The work and the world that Powers addresses is now distant . . . but there is still a cohesion at the center that carries over into many of the conversations still floating on our contemporary waters.  We meet the priests we know, and would like to know, and feast on the private conversations of priests as they really are.

Powers won't let us forget the humanity.  And I, for one, am grateful.

Anyone (pastor or priest) who assumes the mantle of serving what is, in essence, wild and untameable needs, often retreats to the familiar and shared experiences of those who share the same miseries and joys.  Sometimes I met myself in the pages.  And I was not eager to leave.

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