on November 13, 2013
Yes, this is a short book. It includes a transcription of Flannery O'Connors prayer journal from her time at the University of Iowa writer's school. But the quality of a book should never be judged by its length.
It should be judged by its texture and depth. And for this reason I consider the book to be essential. The prayers O'Connor has written create a landscape for prayer utterly original in the Christian tradition, if also deeply embedded in it.
I am reading one prayer per night, sometimes two. They are leading me into new spiritual insights each time. I see myself in new ways through her prayers.
The book also includes a facsimile of the journal itself. It's really a pleasure to be able to see her hand-writing first hand, to imagine her as a young student writing each day in this journal.
I guarantee if you buy this book, when it arrives, you will do more than read it. You will cherish it.
on November 17, 2013
What the prayer journal did for me was to drive me back to my Flannery library and start all over again. I now can read her with a new insight. In Brad Gooch's marvelous biography, I had learned how much her Catholic faith meant to her in that far off place in Iowa, where she was homesick and far from her Savannah roots, where she had, in the words of William Sessions, received from her southern and Catholic world, the view of a coherent universe. Gooch tells us that Flannery told a friend that she was able to go to Mass every single morning while at the Iowa Writers workshop. She went there to Mass for three years and never met a soul, she said, nor any of the priests, but it was not necessary. "As soon as I went in the door I was at home." What I didn't know was how willing she was to take a deep plunge into the depths of Catholicism. It is fitting that William Sessions was the one who brought this hidden journal to us. In the index of "The Habit of Being," the collected letters of Flannery O'Connor, Sessions turns up 28 times. He was a trusted friend and has turned out to be O'Connor's leading expert, among hundreds of scholarly admirers. I will bet you anything Flannery never thought her personal, private journal would see the light of day. I don't think she wore her religion on her sleeve and said one time she didn't even want to be known as a Catholic writer but hoped that she would just be known as a good writer, an honest writer and a real artist. I will bet you also that she would not like to be known as a mystic but she darned sure was. Like Dorothy Day (and they were very much aware of each other), she would have scoffed at the idea of being canonized a saint. Dorothy said she hoped that they wouldn't get to trivialize her that way and I can just see Flannery's writing the same thing in one of her letters. Flannery doesn't claim to know any more about the after life than any of the rest of us. She did say in one of her letters that if all you see is God in the beatific vision, then all you will want to see is God: the statement of a mystic. You would be disappointed in this journal if you expected it to be some spiritual advice or descriptions of visions or quotable nuggets. What I got from it was a wonderful insight into the human Flannery. Flannery struggled along with the rest of us with doubts, fears and pleas for mercy. The point is she never stopped struggling and wondering. All of us who have read and reread her works can only be grateful she never stopped.
on November 26, 2013
O'Connor's words, spirit, and even her struggle here are deeply Catholic. She speaks my own mind for me, saying words that I would have said if I had the gift that she had. Her form of prayer, her approach to it, her persistence in it, her discouragement with her own progress, all reveal a very quintessentially Catholic spirituality. I bought this book for my literary daughter, but it has now inspired me to undertake reading O'Connor's body of literature.
Requiescat in pace, Miss O'Connor.
on November 14, 2013
Publishers didn’t present her to the literary world with her prayers. In point of fact, these weren't even known until Bill Sessions found them among other papers in 2002. She had written them in a cheap spiral notebook in 1946, six years prior to the publication of her first novel, Wise Blood. At the time she was a student in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. However much she read from her Roman Catholic prayer book, hers are decidedly non-liturgical and intensely personal. She, like us, prayed she would manage to get something published. Some don’t even sound like prayers, yet they evidence a spirit of prayer. Like many of the biblical psalms, she addresses God and then slips into talking to herself.
Arguably, these prayers might never have been published now if she hadn’t produced a wealth of other very fine literature. But, then, those other works also express her strong desire for God, although not as explicitly as these.
on November 22, 2013
I very much admire O'Connor's earnest desire for closer union with God so evident on each page.
Her entry on love, divine, human, and perverted, is a classic analysis of man's deepest need. This work was for me as she says Leon Bloy was for her, like an iceberg smashing her titanic in its inspirational value.
Thank you for making this accessible.
on December 11, 2013
A Prayer Journal is intensely personal, a loving attempt by this extraordinary genius to ask God to use her as his Christian "instrument" the same way she uses her typewriter as her "instrument." After reading the print section with its silent corrections of this "innocent speller," the facsimile in her handwriting reveals all the warmth and humanity of this fledgling writer with an immediacy that changes the experience of the book. In places humbling in its honesty, in other places laugh-out-loud funny as she confesses she is being "clever," this book is a gem, a wonderful addition to our understanding of the works of this amazing American original.
on February 23, 2014
Before Flannery O'Connor hit her literary zenith with her stellar short stories, letters, criticism, book reviews and two novels, she had, in the quiet backdrop of her unassuming life, a tattered notebook in which was written intense yet personal jottings about her Catholic faith and the relationship that that faith had in the molding of who she was as a literary artist. Yet, it also showed how she saw herself personally. It illustrates (what I think) was an almost strained or exhausted awareness of her unworthiness before God. There is a high caliber of scrupulosity that is attached to her self awareness, a zealousness even. Clearly, she struggled to reach that pinnacle of what she felt God desired of her versus what she wanted for herself: "What I am asking for is really very ridiculous. Oh Lord, I am saying, at present I am cheese, make me a mystic, immediately. But then God you can do that-make mystics out of cheese. But why should He do it for an ingrate slothful & dirty creature like me. I can't stay in the church to say a Thanksgiving even[,] and as for preparing for Communion the night before-thoughts all elsewhere. The rosary is mere rote for me while I think of other and usually impious things." Page 38. Journal entry date 9/25.
What is so ironic about this particular passage is that while Flannery O'Connor, like the rest of us, are naturally unworthy of God's mindfulness, O'Connor was indeed very mystical. Her literary writings, especially her short stories, certainly do attest to that. Her lament echoes so much of Psalm 8: "O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world! Your praise reaches up to the heavens; it is sung by children and babies. You are safe and secure from all your enemies; you stop anyone who opposes you. When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places-what are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them? Yet you made them inferior only to yourself; you crowned them with glory and honor. You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them all over creation: sheep and cattle, and the wild animals too; the birds and the fish and the creatures in the seas. O Lord, our Lord your greatness is seen in all the world."
For me, O'Connor was tremendously gifted by God, but for O'Connor, the act of having that gift comes off as sometimes being very difficult to carry and or live up to. The hunger and desire is there, but the act of putting that desire into practical fruition requires an act of the Divine indeed. That is what makes this journal so startling. O'Connor is so focused on where she stands before God. He is such an integral part of her work, that she always beseeches Him: "Dear God, I am so discouraged about my work. I have the feeling of discouragement that is. I realizes I don't know what I realize. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted. That is so far from what I deserve, of course, that I am naturally struck with the nerve of it." Page 10. Undated. Or: "Dear God, tonight is not disappointing, because you have given me a story. Don't let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story-just like the typewriter was mine..." Page 11. Undated.
Thankfully, unlike the Victorian poet-priest Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins who wanted to give up his poetic gift because he felt it went against his call to humility, Flannery O'Connor went in the exact opposite direction and published slowly yet consistently, seeing her writing as a genuine vocation, whereas Hopkins did not. O'Connor saw her writing as a gift and herself as an instrument. She just didn't know how to occasionally temper herself to that calling, but she cuts to the point with this journal statement of 1/2/47 on page 25: "No one can be an atheist who does not know all things. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer & he has his reasons." This was an illuminating read and has certainly afforded me a finer depth to understanding O'Connor's works as a whole.
on January 26, 2014
I loved hearing,....no, rather feeling what she was thinking. I am most interested in people's private prayer journals . I think that we need to share more of them. Particularly someone we 'know' from various writings in a different mode. Thank you.
on January 3, 2014
Much shorter than I thought it would be, but often good things come in small packages. Hard to believe Ms. O'Connor was so young when she wrote this. I found it to be thought provoking and insightful as to the human condition. I would definitely recommend it.
on November 25, 2015
This small volume is invaluable for understanding Flannery O'Connor and her stories. It shows her motivation, purpose, and goals as a writer and provides context for appreciating and interpreting her stories. It is necessary reading for her fans, among whom I count myself, and for anyone wanting to understand properly her stories, though it will probably be of little interest to those who have not read any of her stories. (I recommend reading at least some of her short stories before reading her Prayer Journal.)
"Please let Christian values permeate my writing," prays the young O'Conner early in the journal, "and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate." In other entries she struggles with doubts, seeks ideas, discusses writing ("To maintain any thread in the novel there must be a view of the world behind it & the most important single item under this view of [the] world is conception of love—divine, natural, and perverted.)", and expresses her desire for God ("I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately"). In this prayer journal, her Catholicism is explicit, not hidden or implicit as in her stories—and it shows the correct way to read her fiction.
Perhaps my favorite entry is that for 1/2/47 which reads in its entirety: "No one can be an atheist who does not know all things. God alone is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer and he has his reasons." There's a lot to ponder in that, and it sounds like the Flannery O'Connor who'd write the type of short stories she went on to write.
The introduction by W.A. Sessions is excellent. The journal itself is brief. This small volume contains the journal twice: once in type and once in a facsimile reproduction of Flannery's handwritten notebook. The Prayer Journal's an easy read: I've read it twice and gained even greater insight on the second reading.
A quibble: The one photograph in the book of Flannery shows her in the advanced stage of lupus; I'd have preferred instead or additionally a photo of her at about the time she wrote the Prayer Journal, which was before she suffered symptoms of that disease.