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on June 20, 2012
The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
Angela O'Donnell, English professor at Fordham University and poet herself has pieced together a fascinating study that takes pieces of O'Connor's work and puts them into a prayer book, bringing together theology and imagination (16). Seeing O'Connor's deep Catholic faith as part of her daily life, O'Donnell does a marvelous job at bringing out O'Connor's writing which reflects the interplay between faith and art (17). The opening introduction of the book is O'Donnell's brief account of O'Connor's life, her devotion which includes an apology for including morning and evening prayers.

In the Sunday morning prayer, O'Donnell includes a section after the prayers and scripture readings that is called Lectio Divina, which is a brief mediation on the Scripture or prayer. The sections entitled lectio divina are taken from O'Connor's work Habit of Being and Mystery of Manners shows the heart of O'Connor faith. O'Connor writes, "Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe" (MM, 167) (33). Flannery O'Connor always has a way of fusing the comical and the serious in the same character, the same conversation that constantly supersedes our expectations. The two works quoted above delve into the more serious side of both her art but also concerning her faith and give us a rich picture of the O'Connor.

In a moment of extraordinary insight, O'Connor writes, "I don't know if anybody can be converted without seeing themselves in a kind of blasting annihilating light, a blast that will last a lifetime...I don't think of conversion as being once and for all and that's that. I think once the process is begun and continues that you are continually turning toward God and away from your own egocentricity...I measure God by everything I am not" (47-48). The constant mind to see the grave nature of sin in our own hearts and God's holiness is apparent in these words of O'Connor. This process of turning to God and turning away toward egocentricity has been at the heart of Christian thought since the beginning, from people like the Puritan John Owen to the desert saints of Egypt. The way that O'Donnell has placed this quote in the midst of the Lord's Prayer is a strong reminder of the dependence we have upon God for everything and the need for forgiveness within every heart.

Last, the further reading and reflection sections are wonderful in that they bring out the larger themes in O'Connor's works. O'Donnell does an excellent job at placing themes of identity, self-delusion, and pride. At one point she writes about Hulga Hopewell by saying, "Paradoxically it is only when her aid to vision is removed that she discovers how blind she truly is" (65). This turning point for Hulga allowed her an opportunity to see grace, to have a new of seeing.

I greatly enjoyed this book and will use for years to come in my prayers.

Much thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this book.
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VINE VOICEon June 24, 2012
I first started reading the works of Flannery O'Connor in 1975. A friend at the company I then worked for introduced me to "A Good Man is Hard to Find," and I was hooked. I read all of her fiction; "Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose;" and "The Habit of Being," her letters as collected and compiled by Sally Fitzgerald.

O'Connor was a Southern writer, yes, but she transcended the region. She was a literary writer, and her reputation grew, and grew mightily, after her death from lupus in 1964.

Her characters and plots can seem strange when you first start reading, and can be jarring and disconcerting. But as you read her fiction, you learn that behind the misfits and charlatans and con-men are the universal themes of grace and redemption.

Another odd thing about her writing, and this may very well be what originally pulled me into it, was that she was a devout Catholic writer writing within (and often about) a largely Protestant South. For a reader like me, a Protestant raised in largely Catholic New Orleans, her writing was almost instantly familiar, in both a specific and a general sense. I knew what it was to feel something of a misfit in my culture.

O'Connor prayed, too, and she prayed in accordance with her Catholic faith. In "The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor," author and poet Angela Alaimo O'Donnell has a created a devotional guide, on that reflects both O'Connor's Catholic faith and the themes of her writing.

O'Donnell structures the book for a full seven-day week, with devotions and prayer for both morning and evening. Each day has a theme, and the order of the devotional is far more structured than what might be familiar to most Protestants (and even some Catholics).

The main elements for each time of prayer are a gospel meditation; a psalm; a reading; a quotation from O'Conner's writings; a canticle or song; the Lord's Prayer and a prayer to St. Raphael in the mornings; and a concluding prayer. The canticles, the Lord's prayer and the prayer to St. Raphael are repeated each day, and while it may seem repetitive at first, in practice it is not. It's a kind of liturgy that becomes new and different with each day's theme.

The evening canticle is the Magnificat of Mary, her song in response to learning from Gabriel that she would give birth to the Messiah. In this devotion, however, Mary's song becomes our song, providing a depth of understanding that I hadn't previously encountered, in spite of the number of times I've read it.

O'Donnell provides a solid introduction to O'Connor and her works, and includes a number of resources (and prayers) in the appendix. The daily readings also include information for additional consideration and reflection.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I began reading it, but "The Province of Joy," like the author who inspired it, takes us to a different, more insightful place in our faith.
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on August 3, 2012
DISCLAIMER: I received an Advance Reader's Copy of the book The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell from Paraclete Press in exchange for a publicized review of the book.

Review: Anyone that is familiar with Flannery O'Connor knows she was a prolific writer as well as a devoted Catholic. In this book, Angela O'Donnell attempts to combine both of those aspects of O'Connor's life. She has structured the book in a week's worth of daily prayer times patterned after the Catholic model, and has interjected O'Connor's writings and personal reflections in those daily prayer times for reading and reflection. This would be an excellent tool for any Christian - regardless of denomination - to enhance one's spiritual formation. I can easily see this book being coupled with a week of fasting to greatly deepen and strengthen a personal relationship with God. At the end of the book, O'Donnell has inserted a compilation of other writings and quotes from other authors. While these are good selections and excellent readings, I personally would have liked to have seen some more of Flannery O'Connor's writings in these sections, but that does not detract from the usefulness of the book. Catholic or not, take a one week sabbatical from work and the world with this book and a Bible, and I have a feeling you will care less about your denominational title than you will about your title as a child of God.
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on May 23, 2012
Many people consider Flannery O'Conner the best short-story writer of the twentieth century. Her macabre tales of death and dysfunction shake readers out of their comfort zone in order to show them grace in the darkest of circumstances. Her work continued to be praised by religious and secular critics alike.

However when studying her work, Flannery's faith is often ignored. She was a devout Catholic who loved the Sacraments, studied the Summa, and prayed each day. Her faith clearly grounded her stories, inspiring themes like redemption, the surprise of grace, and the horror of sin.

While a small handful of books probe her spirituality, fewer if any explore her personal prayer life. This makes Angela Alaimo O'Donnel's new book, Province of Joy, The: Praying with Flannery O'Connor (Paraclete Press, paperback, 155 pages), a welcome contribution.

A poet and English professor at Fordham University, O'Donnel has written a book which is less biography and more "prayer book." It's structured like a "Book of Hours," with morning and evening prayers for seven different days. Each day carries a theme, such as "The Christian Comedy", "Blindness and Vision", and "Facing the Dragon." Each also has a Gospel meditation, prayers from the Divine Office, a passage excerpted from Flannery's writings, and some closing reflections from O'Donnel herself.

The Divine Office structure is ripe for meditation and moreso when you add Flannery's own writings. Here's a sample passage:

"Faith is a "walking in darkness" and not a theological solution to mystery. The poet is traditionally a blind man, but the Christian poet, and storyteller as well, is like the blind man whom Christ touched, who looked then and saw men as if they were trees but walking. This is the beginning of vision, and it is an invitation to deeper and stranger visions."

In Province of Joy, O'Donnel provides that same invitation. You'll pray with Flannery, contemplate her words, and eventually emerge with "deeper and stranger visions"--visions that both comfort and provoke.
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on April 10, 2012
The short life of Flannery O'Connor unleashed some of the greatest fiction the world has known. Writing as a Southerner and a Christian, her characters showcase both the grotesque and the operations of God's grace. But what are the Spiritual disciplines that nourished the spirituality of the artist and gave O'Connor her unique literary vision? What was her prayer life like? What insights can we gain from following her practice?

In the Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor, Angela Alaimo O'Donnell has drawn together a unique prayer-book which is both a devotional work and an exploration of the prayers, poems and poetry that inspired O'Connor. As O'Donnell describes her project:

It is an attempt to assemble from materials O'Connor would have invested with authority and significance a prayer book she would not find "awful," but instead, might see as a helpful guide for those seeking a language and format for prayer that places ancient practice within a contemporary context. It also provides an opportunity to engage the rich theological imagination of Flannery O' Connor, to come into daily contact with her special mode of holiness-one that is grounded in an unswerving love of Christ and characterized by her extraordinary clarity of vision and a fearless commitment to her craft as a means of accomplishing good in the world(12).

The result is a window into O'Connor's practice and exploration of various themes which are important in her work. The main part of the prayer-book is comprised of the daily office pre-Vatican II Catholic's would have likely practiced, organized around various themes. Each day's prayer, includes prime and compline (morning and evening prayer), various Bible readings, a `lectio divina' on a passage from one of Flannery O'Connor's letters and suggestions for further reading on the day's theme from O'Connor's ficiton. Here are the topics for each day:

Sunday: The Christian Comedy
Monday: The False Self & the True Self
Tuesday: Blindness and Vision
Wednesday: Limitation and Grace
Thursday: The Mystery of the Incarnation
Friday: Facing the Dragon
Saturday: Revelations & Resurrections

The second part of this book, draws together poetry, prayers, poems and quotations that were important to O'Connor (culled from her essays, lectures and letters). These offer a window into the things that O'Connor valued and the spirituality that nourished her.

Angela O'Donnell, herself a poet and professor at Fordham University is well acquainted with O'Connor's works (having taught literature classes focused on her). What I liked best about this book is the ways in which the prayer practice commended here reveals a fresh Flannery O'Connor and this is testament to O'Donnell's genius. Of course as protestant and a Northerner, some of O'Connor's spirituality remains opaque to me, but I found enough here that provoked me to reflection and prayer. This book is a welcome addition to the library of any O'Connor fan (and if you aren't one, it may introduce you to her).

This book was provided for me by Paraclete Press in exchange for this review.
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VINE VOICEon May 20, 2012
Paraclete Press has a lot of nice, innovative products coming out of their publishing house. An ecumenical organization rooted in the Catholic tradition, what I appreciate about Paraclete is that they create a number of texts to guide the Christian spiritual formation and development of their constituents. The latest text I have been given to review is The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor.

The Province of Joy is a prayer book that weds morning and evening prayers for a week with the writings and spiritual influence of Flannery O'Connor. This "book of hours" is similar to other prayer books in a series published by Paraclete. I also have one based around St. Francis of Assisi.

Ms. O'Donnell has collected an excellent group of prayers and has organized it well. The morning prayers include a brief passage to meditate on, a sentence prayer, followed by a psalm, and a thought from O'Connor to meditate on. After that, a canticle, a guide to intercessory prayer, the Lord's Prayer, a time for reflection, prayer to St. Raphael, and a dismissal are included. Finally, there is a guide for further reading and reflection based upon the writings and spirituality of Flannery O'Connor.

The evening prayers have a similar format, but are much shorter than the morning prayers, excluding the prayer to St. Raphael, the Lord's Prayer, and some other prayers.

Each day also has a theme. These themes parallel some of the spiritual themes that appeared in O'Connor's writing. They are very contemporary as well, and address common struggles, concerns and issues in everyday life.

At the end of Province of Joy also has several prayers and poem/prayers for occasional use at the end of the book. I loved this. Included were poems by Hopkins, writings from de Chardin, Prayers from Ignatius of Loyola and Catherine of Sienna are also included. It is a fine collection of quotes, and very appropriate.

For me, The Province of Joy is an excellent guide to formal prayer times. I appreciate the structure of the prayers. I appreciate the influence of O'Connor's work in this book. Most of the writings in this book are from her letters and prose. I am primarily familiar with her fiction work, so with this book I get a fuller picture of O'Connor and her spirituality while praying and growing myself.

For a person who is deeply fed by study as a spiritual discipline, and who appreciates structure in my prayer time, this resource is a godsend. My prayers become informed by Scripture, tradition, and the insight of a Christian leader of the caliber of Flannery O'Connor.

I am not necessarily a big fan of praying to saints, and many of the readers of this blog are not either. But I tend to treat this prayer as something to meditate on instead of something to outright reject.
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on March 28, 2016
Such a great book.
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on February 25, 2013
I was most disappointed with this book. It contains standard daily prayers repeated many times and very very little of Flannery O'Connor's writing. The commentary on some of her stories does not make up for this lack. I was interested in Flannery O'Connor and not this author.
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