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Novelist shares experiences as Catholic writer

| Sunday, September 28, 2014

Novelist Ron Hansen gave a lecture entitled “Seeing into the Middle of Things: On Being a Catholic Writer” sponsored by Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism on Friday.

Hansen is an author of eight novels, including “A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion” and “Exiles,” as well as three short story collections, according to Cushwa Center’s webpage.

“What I appreciate about Catholicism is it means ‘universal,’” Hansen said. “It embraces lots of different subjects. … Catholicism, because of the analogical imagination, sees God operating in all lives.”

In describing the ability of a writer to see “into the middle of things,” Hansen referenced the journals and poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, specifically the famous hymn to creation, “Pied Beauty.”

“Seeing gave rise to feeling, and closely observed were actualities [that] gave rise to religious emotion,” Hansen said.

Hopkins saw the world so acutely that “even a falcon rocking and hovering over its prey could remind [Hopkins] of Christ,” Hansen said.

“In variation, complexity and juxtapositions, Hopkins finds in the natural world declarations of the infinite extent of God’s glorious, imaginative activity,” he said.

Hansen said relation and reciprocity are key features of all contacts with the arts and involve three steps.

“We view or read or hear and our first step is generally acceptance, welcoming any presence of beauty, willing to be moved, hoping for the best,” he said.

The second theory of relation involves evaluation, Hansen said, in the sense that early humans conjured decisions on the basis of hunger and fear, to determine if what they saw was food or a predator and if they should fight it or flee.

“There’s still a vital presence of friend or foe in our encounter,” he said. “But now we are judging whether it dangerously opposes our values and attitudes or is just something we can comfortably ignore, walk away from.”

Now, such discriminations are calmer but no less effective, Hansen said.

“The third step is often that of self-inquiry, examination of conscious if you will,” he said. “… Sensing, that is intelligent sensing, is always transactional.”

The gift of fiction, poetry, memoir and all the arts is to let us see others in the most unprotected moments, Hansen said. Those moments may then cultivate under “our watchful and caring eyes.”

“We are co-creators of the works of art we view or hear or read,” he said.

These works of art are intertwined with our lives, Hansen said.

“The gift of the arts, whether narrative or representative, is that they overlook our lives just as God does, giving us the same stabilizing sense of overview,” he said.

The spirit of God is constantly working to see its reflection in the Church, Hansen said, both in the joys and sorrows of all of our quotidian lives.

“Our continuing goal ought to be that we become truth tellers and truth seekers, to attend to and confront the world honestly and unblinkingly, celebrating the beauty of creation, but not shying from its chaos, distortion and sin,” he said.

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About Carolyn Hutyra

Carolyn Hutyra serves as an Assistant News Editor for The Observer. She is a senior from Arlington Heights, Illinois studying Biology and Anthropology.

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