The year was 2005. I was sitting on the back deck talking with my spiritual director, Father Richard Lopez, when he suddenly asked me if I’d ever read Flannery O’Connor’s letters. I’d read her stories long ago but not her letters, and his question piqued my interest. Before long, I was poring over “The Habit of Being,” a collection of her letters published in 1979.
At the time I was a cafeteria Catholic par excellence. After decades as an atheist and radical feminist, I had returned to my childhood faith in my forties, but I persisted in merrily picking and choosing among Church teachings, assuring myself that sometimes the pope simply didn’t know what was right.
By the time I’d finished the book, O’Connor became the writer friend I had been seeking as well as my personal muse–brilliant, creative, witty, outspoken and deeply faithful to Church teachings. When she described the Catholic Church as “Christ speaking in time,” it really hit home with me.
Thanks to her and Father Lopez, I underwent a deeper conversion becoming an ex-member of the Cafeteria Catholics Club. In fact, I was so drawn to this Southern writer who died in 1964 that I immediately started writing a book—“The Abbess of Andalusia”—exploring her life through a Catholic lens. By then I had read all her fiction, her essays and hundreds of her published and unpublished letters.
As the saying goes, I thought that was all she wrote.
But recently I was wonderfully surprised to learn that her prayer journal had been discovered in the archives by Dr. W.A. Sessions —and would be published this coming November. After reading an advance copy, it is clear to me that O’Connor’s role in bringing people to Christ is still ongoing.
“A Prayer Journal” is a collection of poignant, lyrical letters to God, written passionately and honestly. In it, she repeats “My dear God” often, and the words frame an intimate, heartfelt, and sometimes heart-rending conversation with the Lord.
The journal records her struggles as a young unpublished writer who wanted to be sure her longing to write wasn’t tainted with vanity and ego. She knew there could be a conflict between making a big splash and remaining truly committed to the Lord, and she prayed for the grace to keep Him at the center.
Many readers may breathe a sigh of relief to learn she had trouble praying. Not that I would wish this on anyone, but her admission makes her less of an untouchable, perfect icon of faith. In a poetic passage, she tells God, “You are the slim crescent of the moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon.”
She goes on to say, “What I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon….” She also admits, “I do not know You God because I am in the way.”
It is one thing to have a role model who is a saintly person with a huge halo, one who never struggles with the daily stuff you do. But I love O’Connor because she admits she doesn’t have everything nailed down. “Please help me to push myself aside,” she begs. And she is not hesitant to reveal her greatest fear, one that resonated with me: “I dread, oh Lord, losing my faith.”
I lost my spiritual moorings in college, largely as a result of being swept away by the poisonous wave of nihilism infecting the classrooms. Thus I deeply appreciated her mentioning her own struggles with what she termed “intellectual quackery,” the process by which many college professors try to demote religion to a quirky psychological affliction. She asks God for the grace to withstand their machinations: “I don’t want to have created God to my own image as they’re so fond of saying.”
Writers and artists will especially love this journal because O’Connor underscores that the creative spark is lit by the One who provides the talent. And so when a story starts taking shape in her imagination, she humbly credits God: “Don’t ever let me think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story….” At another point, she pleads, “Dear God, please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to you.”
“A Prayer Journal” is deeply Catholic, written by a woman who unabashedly loved Christ and prayed for the grace to remain true to Him. I believe that this book, which has already received national attention from the secular media, will draw many people to Jesus.
And I pray that many readers will experience, as I have, a resounding joy in reading the words of this beloved author again after so many years. I thank God for letting me hear my old friend’s voice again.
Lorraine Murray’s book “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” explores O’Connor’s favorite saints, her trip to Lourdes, her love for the birds and beasts at Andalusia Farm, her struggles with lupus and her role as a spiritual director to friends. You may email Lorraine at email@example.com.
Her website is www.lorrainevmurray.com.
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