We live in a violent world. That's hardly a secret. We have been formed by a culture of war and violence, the nature of which we often keep wilfully hidden from ourselves. But today, we intentionally remember war, so that we can in some way dispel it, so that at least violence of a global scale, can be named and thwarted. And we hope that in the naming, in the remembering, something like grace and peace may appear.
And yet, as Flannery O'Connor has said, "Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them." And so in O'Connor's fiction, violence and the grotesque act as the cudgel to awaken the sleeping (that's us) to the reality of something like an intrusion of grace.
Of course violence is never the cause of grace, but it can, in its great distortions of social solidarity and communal life, reflect back to us our own propensity toward envy and rivalry, and in this uncovering, perhaps allow us the grace of seeing ourselves as we truly are—which is, if it happens, an occasion of mercy.
A writerly goal I repeatedly come short of, which is never less a goal, is to stay awake to those intrusions of grace and occasions of mercy, and so perhaps to seize them. For as long as there is language, as Bonny Way and Kathleen Gibson have outlined below, there is a desire to get at that meaning through honest reflection and a need to communicate it clearly. And the closer we can come to the nub and nut of things through true communication, the more set in relief grace becomes. And the closer the personal reflection, the more universal the meaning. For that, after all, is the nature of our Incarnate world, which the nature of violence attempts to usurp.
I have a notion that as Christian writers, writing for this kind of—if I can call it—Incarnational discovery, is at the bottom of most of our goals. For if it isn't, I suppose we're simply adding to the heap of informative tracts and very little to the meaning of things.
Of course as lofty or flighty as this sounds, it's only through the "habit of art," (Maritain) that we come to apprehend and then relay these meanings. For as we writers sit down to write out some vague and fleeting idea, we are immediately thrown into the practical question of form. And its through the daily habit of wrestling with this most basic aspect of writing where a discovery is made, a true thing found.
And as O'Connor has said somewhere, writers ought to be able to discover something from their writing, if not, there's little chance the reader will.