Monday, May 5, 2008

"A small good thing" by Raymond Carver (Eucharist and moment of grace)

In our reading group last week we read the short story "A small good thing" by Raymond Carver. I found it to be quite a hard-hitting story, especially since it's set in a contemporary setting that I could relate to - the shopping centre, the hospital - and also because it's written in such matter-of-fact, hard, clipped sentences. But the story did allow the reader a moment to re-orient herself right at the end, and I thought the experience of reading a hard story and then finding this moment of grace, as it were, at the end, was quite profound.
I don't think it's giving too much away to say that this moment of re-orientation involves simply sitting down around a table with coffee, cinnamon rolls, and a dark loaf of bread. While the darkness is still there in the bread, something nourishing has entered the story as well. I like that Raymond Carver chooses to depict this moment of re-orientation and personal nourishment with the physical act of eating - showing that our physical bodies are always there and always important.
In our group we talked a bit about whether parallels could be drawn from this moment to the Eucharist - there is the breaking of bread, the darkness and nourishment, the brief grace. I think it's a good image, though I also think that there are different layers of communion going on in the short story and in the Eucharist, some of which overlap and some of which don't. They are two different rituals. On the one hand, the Eucharist is highly stylized, with a mass of "intended" meanings that mesh with the more personal, random meanings of the participants. On the other hand, sitting around a table with coffee and cinnamon rolls is less stylized, more unpredictable and immediate, and more open to be shaped by the personal meanings that are brought along. I'm not even sure that most people would call it a ritual. But I think both can be effective.

1 comment:

Stratoz said...

interesting thoughts about the Eucharist, which can be as personal as the story, but we have to accept that invitation. Each week it flows differently.

I recently read this story and then had my students read it.