Happy Birthday Flannery O’Connor

Art by Kevin Christy, The Atlantic

Today marks the birthday anniversary of the late Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), the acclaimed novelist who wrote with a splash of hellfire and holy water. She used her enormous writing talents to often delve into spiritual transformation of those in the “Christ-haunted” American South.

Bruce Springsteen once said, “the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.”

“There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored,” she observed. “The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.”

O’Connor, a devout Catholic lay woman, was never short of pithy statements about the human condition.
• “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
• “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”
• “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”
• “I can, with one eyed squinted, take it all as a blessing.”
• “There is a question whether faith can or is supposed to be emotionally satisfying. I must say that the thought of everyone lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me.”
• “‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’ … is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.”
• “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 no know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

O’Connor died at age 39 after having suffered from lupus for the final decade of her life. We are grateful for her gifts and remember her talents with great appreciation.

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs,” O’Connor wrote. “They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”

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