by Erika Murphy
Our very own Father Pat Hannon will be reading from his newest collection, Sacrament: Personal Encounters with Memories, Wounds, Dreams, and Unruly Hearts, on February 10th at 7:30 in the Campus Bookstore.
The title, Sacrament, may lead to certain expectations, but the book is one of diversions in many ways. Note that although there are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, Hannon chose a singular title for his work. The collection is a spiritual, and not religious, body of work. “I use a sacramental lens to look at the human body, myself,” Hannon said. And here, he hits at the primary aim of the work; that is, to address what it is to be human.
Michael Himes, author of the phenomenal Doing the Truth in Love, once gave a speech to a group of seminarians, of which Hannon was a part. Himes said that for each of us, “our fundamental vocation is to be human.” The book undertakes life itself as sacramental. Hannon finds that God is “found out in everyday life.” From his experiences, church simply helps to focus one’s vision so as to notice the already-present God.
The book is Hannon’s fourth published collection, yet it’s actually a throwback to his thesis for the MFA in Creative Writing at Portland State University. The personal essay was a format that intimidated him. It required a certain vulnerability that his previous work with narratives and objective nonfiction did not. And so, as a graduate student, he became preoccupied with the question of “what makes humans separate from our simian cousins.” Deeply philosophical, the question is probed from within Hannon’s intimate experiences.
The first essay, in the section on baptism, entailed six revisions. He worked closely with an advisor, who he would later “finally become friends with” and to whom he would dedicate the book. Hannon began to notice the difference between “technically sound writing” and that which goes just beyond that point at which “it hurts,” beyond the walls built to contain the messiness of humanity. The book’s other six essays were completed when his advisor hinted that perhaps this first essay just may not be the greatest – every collection has one, right? But Hannon wasn’t about to settle. And so, the essay he ultimately threw onto his advisor’s desk was different, and indeed it was uncomfortable to write.
Hannon experiences the process of personal writing as “thrilling.” Just as in homilies, he finds that through writing the Holy Spirit prompts words he might not otherwise place. Hannon encourages his students to be willing to take those risks. And leading by example, he offers for us this book of his own vulnerability; an intriguingly honest read that flies faster than I want it to.