Omaha, Nebraska
Fall 1997
Volume 9, Number 1

Novelist Ron Hansen Explores Faith and Fiction

Wendy M. Wright
Associate Professor of Theology

Creighton's Lied Center for the Performing Arts was the site for an elegant and thought-provoking lecture by noted author and Creighton alumnus Ron Hansen on the afternoon of February 10, 1997. The Center's Catholic Imagination Project in conjunction with Creighton's department of English and the Missouri Valley Reading Series co-sponsored Hansen's visit, which included the "Faith and Fiction" lecture and an evening reading of some of Hansen's prose.

Hansen's afternoon lecture was presented under the auspices of the Catholic Imagination Project and addressed the question, What does fiction writing have to do with faith and how is writing as an act of faith somehow implied in a Catholic view of the world? Hansen addressed these issues in an absorbing tall< that held the large and varied audience in rapt attention for the better part of the afternoon. He opened by recounting his youthful experience of being the narrator in an Omaha grade school Christmas pageant, replete with charcoaled mustache and a pink and white bath towel turban, in which he was assigned the part of the narrator, Saint Luke. This memory led him to a consideration of the wonderful art of the evangelist Luke, an art which, according to Hansen, displays all the genius of the fiction writer's craft. Not that the gospels are fiction but that in the evangelists we find a fiction writer's focus on how ordinary life was lived in the farms and villages of Palestine, a focus in which even insignificant moments are given weight and can become sacramental glimpses into that very human encounter the one with God. So artful were the evangelists in crafting their tales, with their sense of dramatic plot, the rising of the story, the obstacles overcome, the forbidding crisis of the protagonist, the final greater victory, that western literature, whether it is religious or not, has been indelibly stamped with the Christ-narrative in a thousand variant forms.

Ron Hansen views writing as a sacrament insofar as it can provide graced occasions between humanity and God. The evangelists were such artists, recorders of "a history full of facts and truths but also a fiction formed with harmony, proportion, and beauty and fully at ease with uncertainties, metaphor, and poetic fancy." So too the contemporary writer of what Hansen calls a "faith inspired fiction," will be a fashioner of beauty that can mold language suggestive of the traces of God with us in the finite and often perplexing bewilderments of our lives. Hansen, as a Jesuit-educated Catholic, could identify with Saint Ignatius of Loyola's "Spiritual Exercises" in which retreatants are urged to consider God dwelling in all creatures, the elements, the plants, and in humankind. For a faith-inspired fiction does likewise. Not that such writing is necessarily overtly religious in content. Hansen distinguished between what he does as a fiction writer and what might be termed "Christian fiction" which is in fact allegory or a form of sermonizing. Instead he described "faith inspired fiction" writing as a form of praying, a genre in which "authors can adore God through their alertness to creation and to the Spirit that dwells in their talent, confess their own faults by faithfully recording the sins, failings and tendencies of their characters, offer thanksgiving through the beauty of form, language and thought in their creations."

Hansen graduated from Creighton in 1970 and presently holds the Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. Professorship of the Arts and Humanities at Santa Clara University. He is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and the author of the critically acclaimed novels "Mariette in Ecstacy" and "Atticus."