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“I would like to write a beautiful prayer,” writes the young Flannery O’Connor in this deeply spiritual journal, recently discovered among her papers in Georgia. “There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise.” Written between 1946 and 1947 while O’Connor was a student far from home at the University of Iowa, A Prayer Journal is a rare portal into the interior life of the great writer. Not only does it map O’Connor’s singular relationship with the divine, but it shows how ...
“I would like to write a beautiful prayer,” writes the young Flannery O’Connor in this deeply spiritual journal, recently discovered among her papers in Georgia. “There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise.” Written between 1946 and 1947 while O’Connor was a student far from home at the University of Iowa, A Prayer Journal is a rare portal into the interior life of the great writer. Not only does it map O’Connor’s singular relationship with the divine, but it shows how entwined her literary desire was with her yearning for God. “I must write down that I am to be an artist. Not in the sense of aesthetic frippery but in the sense of aesthetic craftsmanship; otherwise I will feel my loneliness continually . . . I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make us lonelier by reminding us of God. Dear God please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to You.”
O’Connor could not be more plain about her literary ambition: “Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted,” she writes. Yet she struggles with any trace of self-regard: “Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story.”
As W. A. Sessions, who knew O’Connor, writes in his introduction, it was no coincidence that she began writing the stories that would become her first novel, Wise Blood, during the years when she wrote these singularly imaginative meditations. Including a facsimile of the entire journal in O’Connor’s own hand, A Prayer Journal is the record of a brilliant young woman’s coming-of-age, a cry from the heart for love, grace, and art.
“This slender, charming book must be approached with a special tact. To read it feels a little like an intrusion on inwardness itself . . . The brilliance that would make [O’Connor’s] fictions literary classics is fully apparent . . . [A Prayer Journal] is as eloquent on the subject of creativity as it is on the subject of prayer . . . The prose is absolutely brilliant, sentence by sentence, simile by simile . . . relentlessly inventive . . . [O’Connor’s] religious sincerity is beyond question, but the forms of its expression raise many questions. This is no criticism. It is the honorable work of any writer who touches on great matters to provoke . . . This little journal puts its reader a step closer to one touching and remarkable young mind.” —Marilynne Robinson, The New York Times Book Review
“Miraculous . . . Both a blueprint for her fiction and a prophetic dreaming-out of her life’s purpose and pattern . . . Beneath the surface, as recorded on the 47 and a half handwritten pages to which we now have access, [O’Connor] was refining her vocation with the muscularity and spiritual ferocity of a young saint-in-waiting.” —James Parker, The Atlantic
“A startlingly different view of the religious O’Connor.” —Marian Ryan, Slate
“If you’ve already read everything ever written by Flannery O’Connor and crave more, take heart: This recently discovered diary of her long-form letters to God will make you
especially thankful.” —Abbe Wright, O: The Oprah Magazine
“Perhaps the most intimate writing that has yet surfaced from O’Connor.” —Bo Emerson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Religious or not, the daily devotionals written by one of America’s greatest writers between 1946 and 1947 are uplifting and inspiring, as well as a great insight into the mind of Flannery O’Connor.” —Jason Diamond, Flavorpill, 10 Must Reads for November
“Gorgeous” —Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic
“A fascinating prospect for anyone with an interest in O’Connor’s writing, inseparable as it is from her Catholic belief in sin and redemption.” —Mark O’Connell, The Millions
“I love the O’Connor that shines through these pages . . . Witty . . . Deeply earnest.” —Betsy Childs, First Things
“This stirring collection of prayers and reflections provides another crucial piece in the enduringly mysterious and endlessly intriguing puzzle that was Flannery O’Connor’s life.” —Lorraine V. Murray, The Georgia Bulletin
“[A Prayer Journal] offers an honest, intimate, humorous, mysterious, and comforting view into the mind and heart of one of America’s greatest writers.” —Word on Fire Catholic Ministries
“O’Connor had said, ‘I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.’ [A Prayer Journal] should be a fine place to see the inner life of one of America’s finest fiction writers in history, and an unwavering Christian, as she experiences that haunting herself.” —Bible Portal, ChristianPost.com
“These excerpts are raw revelations of a devout young person’s struggle . . . You can hear the push and pull, the train of her particular Christianity on a brilliant mind.” —Amy Frykholm, The Christian Century Blog
“Have you ever read something . . . so sublime that it was hard to talk about with anything resembling coherence. If so, then you’ll understand why it is so difficult to articulate my experience of reading Flannery O’Connor’s intimate and soul-baring A Prayer Journal. I closed the book with a combination of awed silence and heart-soaring joy.” —Angela Cybulski, Dappled Things: A Quarterly Journal of Ideas, Art, & Faith
“A collection of poignant, lyrical letters to God, written passionately and honestly . . . Many readers may breathe a sigh of relief to learn [O’Connor] had trouble praying. Not that I would wish this on anyone, but her admission makes her less of an untouchable, perfect icon of faith . . . I pray that many readers will experience, as I have, a resounding joy in reading the words of this beloved author again after so many years.” —Lorraine Murray, IntegratedCatholicLife.org
“There’s metaphysical mystery at the heart of this short journal . . . as well as the seeds of the spiritual life force that coursed through [O’Connor’s] fiction.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[The prayers are] astutely crafted and reveal a masterful writer at work.” —Publishers Weekly
“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon . . .
“I do not know you God because I a m in the way. Please help me to push myself aside . . .
“I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to You.”
—from A Prayer Journal
Posted January 17, 2014
Have never before (this side of Apostle Paul) come across a writer who so directly and dearly confronts the spiritual challenge of writing as both a humble servant of the Word and fierce student and steward of all that can be honest and true, artful and excellent, in mastery of the written word. As much and as deeply as she could perceive the art of writing to be an act of prayer — in both supplication and praise — young Flannery O'Connor here pours her richly churning heart and soul into her journal entries intended for the "editorial" ministrations of none other than her loving and beloved God incarnate.
It's a thrill and a comfort to sit with her as she writes. And this volume aids in that deep appreciation by providing facsimile copies of handwritten pages from her original Journal.
One of the best, brightest books I will have read from 2013. Or, ever.
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Posted December 14, 2013