In a beautiful remembrance of Barry Hannah, who died earlier this year, William Giraldi writing in AGNI tells of a fishing expedition the two shared as an escape to a writers’ conference they were attending. The piece begins with Hannah asking Giraldi if he’d been fishing lately. Giraldi replies,
“Like a Nazarene.” [Hannah] had recently become reinvigorated by Christianity—born again lower case—and gone sober after a lifetime of being a venal Baptist and then nearly dying in an Oxford, Mississippi, hospital from too many maladies: lymphoma, pneumonia, organs napalmed by decades of cigarettes and booze. As a twenty-something sycophant and Hannah fanatic myself, I referenced Christ when I could—my Jesus-happy boyhood on me like a party hat—and even recited for him the religious sonnets of Donne and Hopkins. “Those bards are bent believers,” he said. “Sing more.”
The rest of the essay follows that fishing day trip and the return to the conference the two were escaping for a short time, exploring themes, from love to violence, in Hannah’s work.
It was a footnote near the end, though, that sent me away from the essay searching for a referenced piece Hannah wrote for Paste magazine called “The Maddening Protagonist,” as it seemed like it might give some answers to why the elder writer might have “become reinvigorated by Christianity.”
In a time when the date celebrating Christ’s birthday has been co-opted by marketers and sales folk and used earlier and earlier each year to hock their wares—Christmas songs playing in Macy’s well before Thanksgiving…soon, no doubt, before Halloween and then onto Labor Day!—I figure it’s never too early to give a dose of what that birth and life actually means, or could mean, when not bastardized for bottom lines and by those so called Christians on the right. And that’s exactly what Hannah’s essay does, so I offer bits of it here as a salve against Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the other shopping-named days to come.
To begin, Hannah sets the table for what is about to be served:
Thousands of pastors have memorized the work and pontificated on it without an honest reading. You’d hear more honest confusion and less braying rhetoric from the pulpits if the Bible were actually confronted even by Christian-leaning ministers. You’d get fewer knee-jerk liars from the so-called-Christian Right if they could or would read their own New Testaments. The absence of many millions of sincere Christians and near-Christians from church is less a matter of apostasy than disgust.
Then, on Christ:
You’ll hear much cursing of God in this crawling tangle of hurt and elation we have in life. But I’ve never heard advice to curse Christ and die. Neither have I heard of a “Christ-fearing” town. Christ evokes a gentle and strong silence. For me. For billions.
Poor Mary, the very vessel that put [Jesus] forth, is always wondering and pondering in her heart….How can the Savior and lamb be so cruel as to expect her to understand when he must know she cannot? Mary is thus all of humanity.
And, finally, on the faith itself:
For simple truthful laymen, the Holy Bible is inconsistent to an almost sickening degree, and we mainly just let it pass….Through the ages there seems a redundancy of the outright mad clutching Bibles to their chests and spouting scripture incoherently as they proceed from one asylum to the next….
I ask now who, two millennia from these words and actions [of Christ], can be altogether comfortable and glib in their soul when they believe in the Savior as the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Son of Man in fragile body, killed through the agency of his fellow man by his own omniscient Father, as a passway to paradise, his father’s kingdom where there are “many mansions”?
It takes one confused and near-absurd fellow mystic to believe, is what.
It would behoove you to combat what will be thrust aggressively upon you this holiday season with Hannah’s exploration of his faith in this essay.