Books

Before she was Flannery: The young prayers of Mary Flannery O’Connor

The latest in the Lights in the Darkness Series by Tod Worner

Flannery O'Connor

AP File Photo 1962

Before she published her first novel, Wiseblood, or her haunting tale of The Misfit in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”…Before she settled in at her mother’s peafowl-ridden farm in Milledgeville, Georgia… Before her body was wracked with and consumed by lupus… Before she was Flannery O’Connor, Mary Flannery O’Connor was a devout Catholic humbly and genuinely seeking to know her God.

And so, while studying at the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop (at the University of Iowa) in 1946, the 20-year-old Mary Flannery scrawled the most intimate of conversations between the lines of a cheap notebook. It was her conversation with God. And unlike the flinty and grotesque characters of her later works and their milieu suffused with suffering and grace, these prayers blistered with frankness and ached with yearning. Spilling from the pen of a 20-year-old writer was a stark hunger to know God and His will. With the 2013 publication of these nearly seventy year-old pages (as A Prayer Journal), we are blessed to witness the honest approach and earnest devotion of one of the leading lights of Catholic fiction. Just consider one such example:

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. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.

I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, “oh God, please,” and “I must,” and “please, please.” I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way. Let me henceforth ask You with resignation – that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind, realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not wish to presume. I want to love.

Oh God please make my mind clear.

Please make it clean.

I ask You for a greater love for my holy Mother and I ask her for a greater love for You.

Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.

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. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologists about this make it turn suddenly cold. My intellect is so limited, Lord, that I can only trust in You to preserve me as I should be.

Please help all the ones I love to be free from their suffering. Please forgive me.

It is a curious (and extraordinary fact) that in spite of Flannery’s brilliant novels and penetrating short stories, it is the letters (A Habit of Being) and journal entries (A Prayer Journal) which Flannery never intended to publish that most profoundly speak to people about the nature of honest dialogue and earnest wrestling with God. A Prayer Journal reminds us that the first step necessary to draw closer to God is to simply be earnest. And if we are earnest, then the hopes, the confessions, the simplest intimate conversations with Christ will follow.  

God is seeking us. Endlessly.

Mary Flannery O’Connor was seeking God. Earnestly.

Are we?

 

To read Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal in full, please click here.

 

Inkless Writer

Tod Worner

Tod Worner is a husband, father, Catholic convert and practicing internal medicine physician. He blogs at A Catholic Thinker.