In our tiny world, we celebrate Flannery Fridays. It may be both a gender and a generational misstep, but I confess to being a FLANboy. My philosophy is there is nothing to be lost from listening to smart people discuss Miss O’Connor’s wordcraft at every opportunity, even again and again. With this in mind, last evening, we listened to Dr. Bruce’s Gentry’s observations on “Parker’s Back.” We had heard him comment on the story before. For us, this session might be called “Parker’s Back is Back.”
Not too much of a good thing, listening to Bruce stirred up an old but incomplete idea in me and a better one. I don’t know if it was the simmering or the spicing, but the result was more palatable than it was before. The Doctor’s diagnosis of Parker’s Back is that Parker “enjoys” a dysfunctional marriage with Sarah Ruth. I had been mulling that it was a sadomasochistic relationship (Fifty Shades of Parker’s Back). Our hero’s addiction to the pain of the tattoo artist’s needle reinforced the unhatched theory. Last night Gentry introduced another factor that I should have connected before.
The image that Parker “painstakingly” selects for his back is Eastern Rite iconography. I briefly considered that Flannery was scolding the Eastern Churchs for their unRoman ways. [I find that voicing my idiotic thoughts in the presence of a trusted listener saves me a great deal of embarrassment.] I recant! Flannery might question members of the Roman Church’s hierarchy (like Frank the Spell Man) and questioned differences of dogma but never criticized other religious sects gratuitously that I can recall.
The Coptic Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite honor the biblical Obadiah as a saint. Reforming my thinking, Parker can also be thought a saint. Ascetics of early Christianity in Ethiopia, Egypt, or Syria frequently subjected the body to deprivation and punishment. The ascetic monk Antony of Egypt and Parker’s biblical namesake Obadiah, both wealthy men, denied the body the comforts wealth afforded. St. Mary of Egypt, like Antony, also lived as a hermit in the desert. The monk Simeon Stylites sat atop a pillar in meditation for decades. Some ascetics chained themselves to rocks. Parker, like some others, subjected his body to self-inflicted pain.
Parker’s alternate name Elihue recalls the biblical character who argues against those offering false comfort to Job. Elihue counsels that pain inflicted by God can be a protection against a greater pain that lurks nearby.
Sarah Ruth’s pinched face, sharp tongue, and stiff broom are not enough to redeem Obadiah Elihu for his inexplicable lust for her. The tattoo artist needle complements his punishment. It mark’s him as a sinner with a primitive image of the Savior that others can see, but he is denied.
Thanks to the Andalusia Society for providing the sessions that air Dr. Gentry’s encyclopedic knowledge of and insights on the O’Connor canon.