Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal

I don’t go into bookstores as much as I used to.  Blame Amazon.com.  Blame the Kindle.  I don’t know.  I still love a good bookstore, but it’s now an occasional divergence and less of the habit it used to be.  One of the many downsides of less trips to the bookstore is that I sometimes miss truly interesting titles because I did not see an ad online or elsewhere.

I realized that today when I swung into a Barnes & Noble and saw that Flannery O’Connor’s 1946-1947 Prayer Journal has been published.  She was 21 when she began the journal and 22 when she stopped.  She wrote it while a student in Iowa City, studying writing.

I fell in love with the writings of Flannery O’Connor in college and have not ceased returning to them, always with great profit.  She was, in short, a phenomenal writer of short stories.  This little Georgia woman had an enthralling mind, a wonderful gift for crafting memorable and often jarring stories, and a devout Catholic faith.  Now, in this prayer journal, we are privileged to see a further glimpse into her spiritual life. It is brief and can be read in one sitting.  It really should be read.

In many ways, it reads the way you would expect the prayer journal of a young Christian to read.  We find a sense of struggle in these pages:  the struggle of a young woman trying to grow into her faith and trying to hold onto her faith in the face of consistent attacks upon it from within the academy.  She cries out to God numerous times for help.  She wants her faith to be real.  She does not want her faith to be based on fear.  She believes in Hell, and is frightened of it, but she wants to trust in God because she loves Him.

Parts of the journal are surprisingly insightful.  She is keenly aware of the typical psychological characterizations of religious faith and fervor.  Though she feels the force of these arguments, she refuses to believe that what she feels is a mere mental phenomenon.  She also has an amazing grasp of what a lack of faith in God does to human beings and of how we turn to sensuality as a substitute.  These parts of the journal really are impressive.

Many of the prayers are very practical.  She asks God to help her write and write well.  She is aware of her own ego and ambition, but she wants God to help her write for His glory.  She is aware of what she calls her own laziness and asks God to help her overcome this fault.  The final prayer bemoans her fixation on “Scotch oatmeal cookies” and “erotic thought.”

In all, this is a fascinating and encouraging little work.  It shows us the mind of a brilliant young woman who loved God yet was aware of her own struggles in doing so.  I would highly encourage you purchase and read this wonderful little work.  You will not regret it.

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