Father, Son, Holy Spirit – A Story for Each

Zemeckis illus. from "A Christmas Carol"

Trinity Sunday

Today I share a question I have been wrestling with: can one say that different authors, when crafting their stories, are inspired by different figures of the Holy Trinity? And if so, what does it mean that we are drawn more to one type of story over another. The question arose last week in my Pentecost post when I noted that I am particularly susceptible to stories of grace entering our lives. I often find these stories more emotionally powerful than those stories that revolve around a Christ figure.

So let’s start with the presence of God-the-Holy Spirit in literature. Some authors write specifically about the drama, such as T. S. Eliot in Little Gidding:

The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year.

Other works that come to mind are James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation,” George Eliott’s Silas Marner, Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and much of the poetry of William Wordsworth and Mary Oliver.

Other stories, by contrast, are shaped by the crucifixion story. Christ figures in literature include Melville’s Billy Budd, Jim Casey in Grapes of Wrath (initials J.C.), Simon in Lord of the Fies, Harry Potter, Hemingway’s “Old Man,” C. S. Lewis’s Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Sydney Carton in Tale of Two Cities, Stowe’s Uncle Tom, Finny in John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, Tolkien’s Frodo, and Ken Kesey’s Randall MacMurphy.

And then, though I can’t think of as many examples, there are those stories of a covenant restored—of a people who have lost their way but who then return to some deep belief (embodied by God-the-father) and find themselves.  I’ll start with Milton’s Paradise Lost and Leon Uris’s Exodus since they are explicit about using the drama, but we could also include communal novels like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, Shakespeare’s green world comedies, and (less optimistically because the characters only experience an avenging wrath) Moby Dick.

I’m in the early stages of working this idea out. Please send in any thoughts and examples that come to mind.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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