Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal is now available, which I’ve commented about previously. James Parker wrote an interesting piece tackling the new collection.
For O’Connor, the space left by the destroyed ego—we can imagine it as a kind of humming vacancy, drifting with pieces of burned paper—was holy because it belonged to God. And she wanted it. Or, more precisely, and more poignantly, she wanted to want it. “Dear Lord, please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss … to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be the Fulfilment.” Electric with literary ambition, she prays to be erased. A paradox? Hardly. “Don’t let me ever think, dear God,” she pleads, “that I was anything but the instrument for Your story.”
For O’Connor, this is grace. This is the way her characters are pierced and softened by God. She doesn’t believe He taps us on the shoulder to get our attention. He more often burns down our forest…
There’s also a nice New Yorker post about O’Connor and A Prayer Journal. It does a good job of outlining what is in the journal. It also explains O’Connor’s eventual fate:
But a successful literary career was not her only prayer, and one of the most plaintive sections of the entire journal is devoted to suffering: “Looking back I have suffered, not my share, but enough to call it that but there’s a terrific balance due.” O’Connor wrote these words only a few years before she experienced the pain that was initially mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis. Later, it was correctly diagnosed as lupus, the disease that killed her father, and that would eventually kill her when she was only thirty-nine years old.
I’m certain her diagnosis solidified her perspective on pain and grace. Her faith was so embedded within her writing style that eventually her prayers became the literature she wrote for people. From the New Yorker:
Her prayer journal ended when her prayers became fully integrated in her writing; the literature itself was a prayer, an offering to God.
This is the passionate intersection of Christian faith and art that is very rare in American culture. Reading O’Connor–and about her–is always inspiring.