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Praying with Flannery O'Connor
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.