A Prayer Journalby Flannery O'Connor, W. A. Sessions
"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
"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.)
When I read Flannery O'Connor, I do not think of Hemingway, or Katherine Anne Porter, or Sartre, but rather of someone like Sophocles. What more can you say for a writer?
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.
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.
A startlingly different view of the religious O'Connor.
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.
Perhaps the most intimate writing that has yet surfaced from O'Connor.
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.
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.
I love the O'Connor that shines through these pages . . . Witty . . . Deeply earnest.
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.
[A Prayer Journal] offers an honest, intimate, humorous, mysterious, and comforting view into the mind and heart of one of America's greatest writers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Meet the Author
Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. A devoted Catholic, she lived most of her life on a farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she raised peacocks and wrote. She was the author of two novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away; thrity-one short stories; and numerous essays and reviews. When she died at the age of thirty-nine, America lost one of its most gifted writers at the height of her powers. Her complete short stories, published posthumously in 1971, received the National Book Award for fiction.
Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. When she died at the age of thirty-nine, America lost one of its most gifted writers at the height of her powers. O’Connor wrote two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and two story collections, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1964). Her Complete Stories, published posthumously in 1972, won the National Book Award that year, and in a 2009 online poll it was voted as the best book to have won the award in the contest’s 60-year history. Her essays were published in Mystery and Manners (1969) and her letters in The Habit of Being (1979). In 1988 the Library of America published her Collected Works; she was the first postwar writer to be so honored. O’Connor was educated at the Georgia State College for Women, studied writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and wrote much of Wise Blood at the Yaddo artists’ colony in upstate New York. She lived most of her adult life on her family’s ancestral farm, Andalusia, outside Milledgeville, Georgia.
W. A. Sessions is the Regents’ Professor of English Emeritus at Georgia State University. He was a personal friend of O’Connor and has become a scholar of her work. He is the editor of O'Connor's A Prayer Journal.
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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.
Beautiful book, very interesting and inspiring reading!