When I first starting reading Flannery O’Connor, I was as taken by her essays and non-fiction writing as I was by her fiction. She had these wonderful quotes, where she could take a subject and turn it on its head, and make you see something you hadn’t seen before. In fact, she was much like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis in that regard.
I read her letters, many of which were collected and edited by Sally Fitzgerald for The Habit of Being, and her essays in Mystery and Manners (edited by Fitzgerald with her husband Robert). In fact, I read both books twice, the second time with a pen in hand to mark the great quotes. One of my favorites was, “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think universities stifle writers. My opinion is, they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” Another one: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.”
One statement she made surprised me at the time; I read it only two or three years after becoming a Christian and I didn’t quite understand it, at least from my own experience. This is what she said in one of her letters: “What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”
O’Connor was echoing Jesus when she wrote this. Jesus didn’t say, “Pick up your warm electric blanket and follow me.” No, he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”
We know what happens on a cross.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis doesn’t so much explain what the cost is and describe how it comes to be paid, or counted. If you go to the Lord to deal with some particular sin, you’ll be cured, but He’s going to want more, a lot more. “That is why,” Lewis writes, “he warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that.’”
As difficult as this sounds, there’s an unexpected side to it: “…this Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty.” Lewis quotes the 19th century George MacDonald to put this is its simplest terms: “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.”
I was puzzled by O’Connor’s words when I first read them. Thirty or so years later, they make perfect sense. Time, experience and learning has taught me the truth of her words. Faith is indeed the cross, and nothing less than the cross.
As odd as it sounds, that’s a good thing.
Jason Stayszsen and Sarah Salter have been leading us us in a discussion of Mere Christianity. To see other posts about this chapter, "Counting the Cost," please visit Sarah's site at Living Between the Lines.