A Prayer Journalby Flannery O'Connor
"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… See more details below
"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 Christian 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.
At age 20, Catholic writer O'Connor moved from Georgia to Iowa City to enroll in graduate school. While in Iowa, she created what editor Sessions, an emeritus English professor at Georgia State University, terms a "prayer journal"—heartfelt odes to God, scribbled in a black-and-white composition notebook. At the outset of the journal, O'Connor makes clear that she has not abandoned the "traditional prayers" of the church; she simply wants to supplement them with prayers she feels more deeply. Throughout, O'Connor bemoans her inability to love God as she feels she should. She also prays about writing, asking that a Christian sensibility would pervade her writing, and asking that God would help her remember that she is not the ultimate author of her work, but an "instrument" for the words God gives her. In his illuminating introduction, Sessions suggests that although the prayers appear "spontaneous," they were in fact astutely crafted and reveal a masterful writer at work. Both O'Connor devotees and students of the life of Christian prayer will find this slender volume, which contains a facsimile reproduction of the journal, only recently discovered, a wonderful addition to their library. (Nov.)
A devotional journal from the author's student days finds her grappling with issues of Christian spirituality that would soon inform her fiction. The renowned Southern novelist plainly experienced a profound sense of displacement when she moved from her native Savannah to the University of Iowa. She began as a journalism major but switched to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, all the while trying to understand and deepen her faith amid "all sorts of intellectual quackery." O'Connor began the journal (which is missing its first few pages) in 1946 and ended it abruptly a year and a half later. During that period, she also began writing what would be her first published fiction. Among the concerns she agonized over were commercialism, egoism and her insistence on her own mediocrity. Of her inspiration, she writes that God has "given me a story. Don't let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story." The author asks for grace and to become a great writer--not for her own acclaim, but as a testament to her faith. Most of all, she asks to know God with an almost erotic ardor: "Dear Lord, please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss. Not just to want You when I think about You but to want You all the time, 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 Fulfillment." Yet just three days later, she ends the journal with a short entry that begins, "My thoughts are so far away from God. He might as well not have made me." It ends, "There is nothing left to say of me." There's metaphysical mystery at the heart of this short journal, followed by a facsimile of her handwritten notebook, as well as the seeds of the spiritual life force that coursed through her fiction.
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Read an Excerpt
“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
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