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Paperback Originals

July 27, 1986|JONATHAN KIRSCH

The book Sacrament of Sexuality by Morton Kelsey and Barbara Kelsey (Amity House: $9.95) takes a remarkable look at "love and sex and their relationship to the religious way." Morton Kelsey is an Episcopal priest with a Jungian bent; Barbara, his wife of more than 40 years, is a non-clerical counselor; both are "committed Christians" who approach the subject of sexuality with sturdy moral values ("Our sexuality needs to be ordered by love") but also with scholarship, insight and understanding. And they are blessed with authentic compassion for the sometimes anguished yearnings, both spiritual and sexual, of the human body and soul.

"Calling sexuality a sacrament may seem strange or even blasphemous to those brought up with the idea that sex is an unmentionable or even an evil necessity," they explain. "We suggest that sexuality is at its best an outer, visible, physiological sign of the inner and spiritual grace of love. Not all sexual behavior meets this definition, but, when it does, then our sexuality becomes a living symbol or sacrament of love . . . a window into the nature of the self-giving love of God, a spiritual experience, a communion with love or God."

"Sacrament of Sexuality" is a rich and expansive treatment of sexuality as it has been understood throughout the ages in culture, law, science, philosophy, psychology and religion; the Kelseys are equally at ease in discussing Jesus and Jung, St. Augustine and Freud, the church fathers and Masters and Johnson. Indeed, their definition of sexuality does not exclude such topics as celibacy, homosexuality or feminism. And, although "Sacrament of Sexuality" is an explicitly Christian book ("(T)he highest function of human beings is to experience the victorious love of the risen Jesus"), it is an ecumenical, all-embracing and redeeming work that offers much wisdom, much inspiration and much love to readers of all faiths.

Flannery O'Connor: Images of Grace by Harold Fickett and Douglas R. Gilbert (William B. Eerdmans: $18.95) is an elegant homage to the abbreviated life and enduring work of the Southern novelist and short-story writer who died in 1964 at age 39. To Fickett, who contributes a critical biography of the author, the power and the purpose of O'Connor's fiction is to be found in her identity as a "Christian humanist": "She believed that the artist, if he is doing his job properly, can hardly fail to testify to the consequences of God becoming incarnate, even if only by way of presenting the destruction, the evil, when he is rejected. . . . O'Connor follows Saint Paul in his teaching that natural revelation, the book of this world read by our conscience, declares God's holiness and our own depravity." And to Gilbert, who reminds us of O'Connor's credo ("To know oneself is to know one's region"), the roots of her fiction are to be found in the faces and landscapes of the rural South, which he captures in a portfolio of evocative black-and-white photographs:

"I don't terribly like being interviewed," the 74-year-old Lillian Hellman told Sylvie Drake of the Los Angeles Times in a 1981 encounter. Ironically, this valedictory interview ("(I)f I'm wiser than I was at 20, it's also because I'm more frightened or more weary") is the last entry in Conversations With Lillian Hellman, edited by Jackson R. Bryer (University Press of Mississippi: $9.95; also available in hardcover, $19.95), a collection of about 27 interviews and profiles that span nearly half a century of Hellman's turbulent but accomplished career.

These public conversations confirm our impressions of Hellman as caustic ("They wouldn't know an idea if they saw it on the Coast") and troubled ("I don't believe there ever was a writer who wanted to be a decent writer who was satisfied with what he had done and who wasn't willing to kid himself he'd be a Dostoyevsky the very next time"). She reminisces about many of the struggles and triumphs that have shaped her reputation: her early plays and later memoirs, her relationship with Dashiel Hammett, her skirmishes in the literary circles of New York and the movie colony in Hollywood, her notorious political and literary feuds. If Hellman offers only an occasional glimpse into her private life--Hammett once asked her to stop reading "Li'l Abner" because "he thought it was a fascist comic strip"--these conversations are still revealing, all the more so because they allow us to witness both the sweep of Hellman's career and the subtle evolution of Hellman's work and persona.

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