Monday, December 5, 2011

O'Connor at the Eleventh Hour

During Advent, the brothers at St. Michael Friary are pledging to do an hour of spiritual reading every weeknight at 8 p.m. This hour leads into night prayer in our chapel. It is a good way for the postulants to deepen their contemplative life, and to stretch their prayer muscles, so to speak, in advance of next year in novitiate, when all of us will be spending several hours daily in community prayer and additional time in private for mental prayer.

If the hour were not so late, I would devote this post to a reflection on the practice of spiritual reading. But the night is already far spent, and dawn is nearer than I want to admit. O poor night owls, feathering your insomniac nests in the friaries tonight!

Instead, let me share with you some jagged nuggets of truth, quarried from the rugged depths of the soul by Flannery O'Connor. I am reading a volume, edited by Robert Ellsberg, that excerpts wisdom from her letters, essays, and stories. She writes like an evangelist, and she guides her reader like a Desert Mother. That's who O'Connor is for me: my Amma, the Desert Mother of Milledgeville.


One of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, the present reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation; that is, nobody in your audience. My audience are the people who think God is dead. At least these are the people I am conscious of writing for.

As for Jesus' being a realist: if He was not God, He was no realist, only a liar, and the crucifixion an act of justice.

letter to Betty Hester, Aug. 2, 1955


"You ain't said you loved me none," he whispered finally, pulling back from here. "You got to say that...."

She was always careful how she committed herself. "In a sense," she began, "if you use the word loosely, you might say that. But it's not a word I use. I don't have illusions. I'm one of those people who see through to nothing....We are all damned," she said, "but some of us have taken off our blindfolds and see that there's nothing to see. It's a kind of salvation."

The boy's astonished eyes looked blankly through the ends of her hair. "Okay," he almost whined, "but do you love me or don't cher?"

"Good Country People," A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955)


The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.

"The Fiction Writer and His Country" (1957)


"Put that Bible up!" Sheppard shouted...."That book is something for you to hide behind," Sheppard said. "It's for cowards, people who are afraid to stand on their own feet and figure things out for themselves."

Johnson's eyes snapped. He backed in his chair a little way from the table. "Satan has you in his power," he said. "Not only me. You too...."

Sheppard laughed. "You don't believe in that book and you know you don't believe in it!"

"I believe it!" Johnson said. "You don't know what I believe and what I don't."

Sheppard shook his head. "You don't believe it. You're too intelligent."

"I ain't too intelligent," the boy muttered. "You don't know nothing about me. Even if I didn't believe it, it would still be true."

"The Lame Shall Enter First," Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965)

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