“Sanctuary” Explores Faith in God and Prayer

Below you can listen to my reading of “Sanctuary,” a story in my novel-in-stories entitled Horseshoe. The catalyst for writing this piece probably first came the result of the death of a high school friend from cancer approximately fifteen years ago. I remember that there was a church service in relation to her illness. It wasn’t a service I attended, and I never talked with my friend or anyone else about what happened there. So the events of this story and the thoughts of the lead character are from my own imagination.

William Torgerson is author of Love on the Big Screen and Horseshoe. St. John's University

“Sanctuary” is in the novel-in-stories Horseshoe

I was interested in the subject matter because of my interest in what it means to be a person who believes in God and what it means to pray. I also drew on my experiences of the death of my grandfather and father in law, both also from cancer. It’s a story I couldn’t have written ten years ago before I met my wife and learned what it is to live in the world with daughters. It’s a terrifying and wonderful experience. Music is by the Jeremy Vogt Band. “Sanctuary” first appeared in the literary journal Sakura and was published most recently by Cherokee McGhee Press.

Click on the following link to listen:

“The Church and the Fiction Writer” Prof. Torg Talking With O’Connor’s Text

I’ve previously described myself as a Christian who doesn’t go to church.  This may or may not be a permanent part of my life:  not going to church.  Sometimes I miss the sorts of sermons that are like the best classroom lessons I’ve experienced, or I miss the lift in spirit I have previously felt when I raise my ugly singing voice within a congregation.

Recently, I attended a writing conference at Wesleyan University in Connecticut where O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners was often invoked.  It’s book I had somehow not yet read, and while I waited for the copy I’d ordered to arrive, I browsed the library collection at St. John’s University in New York and came across  O’Connor’s “The Church and the Fiction Writer.”  It’s  an essay that interests me from the standpoint of being a Christian who writes stories which often contain curse words, sex, and people doing ugly things to one another.  It’s subject matter that might be tricky if I was teaching somewhere such as my fictional Pison Nazarene University and it’s also subject matter that is tricky when I’m talking with my parents about my work.  As some of you might know, parents often weigh in with their thoughts no matter how old you get.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I imagine O’Connor possibly responding in her essay to questions such as these:

  • Why can’t you write a happy story?  Why does there have to be cursing, violence, and sex?
  • Why does there have to be so many shadows from your own life?  Why can’t you just make everything up?
  • Why do you have to write so much about the place you come from?

Here are some lines in bold I’ve plucked from O’Connor’s essay and a few of mine own thoughts which follow. 

“The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what-is.”  Life works with my mind to give me ideas, people, and situations about which to write.  I have those to choose from.  I try to become the characters and report what happens in and out of minds. I try to point to spots in life that are interesting to me and so might tend to be interesting to some of you.

“A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it.”  No matter your belief in God or no God, life is happening in front of you.  Art such as O’Connor’s helps me to pay attention to life that I would have otherwise missed. 

Perhaps partially in response to, “Why can’t you write about happy things?” O’Connor wrote this:   An affirmative vision cannot be demanded of him (the writer) without limiting his freedom to observe what man has done with the things of God.

What would make a person fearful of reading fiction?   It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life…  O’Connor’s line evokes for me those who would never read Barack Obama or Bill O’Reilly.  If they are one side, they can’t stand to hear the other. 

Citation information:

O’Connor, Flannery.  “The Church and the Fiction Writer.”  Flannery O’Connor Collected Works.  Comp. Sally Fitzgerald.    New York:  Literary Classics of the United States, 1988. Print.

William Torgerson on Flannery O'Connor The Church Fiction Writer

Click Here to Read About O'Connor's Cartoons

Times a Changin: Beer Cans, Church Keys, and Ted Williams

Old School Beer Can

Having never before considered the history of the beer can, last night I was reading a book of collected essays by John Updike, and I was surprised to find him complaining (reading as time travel) in the year 1964 about a new innovation:  “Now we are given, instead, a top beetling with an ugly, shmoo-shapped ‘tab,’ which after fiercely resisting the tugging, bleeding fingers of the thirsty man, threatens his lips with a dangerous and hideous hole.”  Mr. Updike combated this problem by simply turning the can over, popping his holes into the bottom, and drinking mostly as he always had.  My mother-in-law tells me the little hole-popping device was known as a “church key” and carried on many a key chain.

Another essay in the collection is on Ted Williams’ last baseball game.  Updike explains that the sports of his time are able to avoid “irrelevance…not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon but by the players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art.”  I’m certainly not saying that all athletes don’t care.  There’s an arc of them flowing from my childhood to today–Walter Payton, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Brett Favre, and Tiger Woods (that’s right!)–who’ve been able to keep me occasionally interested in what threatens to become irrelevant, at least keep me interested for the passion they show and have shown on the field of competition.