'A Prayer Journal' by Flannery O’Connor: December-January selection

Augustine’s Confessions is the story of a soul. It is the account of a soul that once had a rigid, fairly intelligible story for itself. For some thirty years, Augustine told the same story of his soul—to himself, to others—until that story was torn up and reconstituted in his conversion. After Augustine’s conversion, his soul’s story became that of the Prodigal Son. The story was given to him, and he realized its truth. He began to make sense of his life in the light of his soul’s reconciliation with God. He was suddenly aware of how God’s grace worked throughout his life.

Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal is the story of a soul. It is the story of a soul being constituted by God. This is not meant to be patronizing. Nor is it meant to be romantic. But, it is clearly the story of a soul being formed in God’s grace.

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The Prayer Journal consists of several entries made in a standard issue, marble-covered notebook between January 1946 and September 1947. Flannery, 21 years old, had just started at the Writers’ Workshop at Iowa University. She was reading widely—Kafka, Mauriac, Bloy—and trying to produce writing that was more than mediocre.

Most of the commentators and reviewers who have offered their thoughts on Flannery’s Prayer Journal marvel at what Flannery reveals of herself. They speak of her constant mention of desire—she writes that she wants to feel desire and love for God. She prays directly for artistic success. She prays for the ability to grasp God in such a way that would enable her to answer the questions about her faith that roil in her. She prays poignantly to become “intelligently holy.” She senses that God is feeding her, but she prays that she might somehow develop an appetite for God. She demands mystical experience. In fact, she demands any experience that might serve to ground her faith in God.

The reviewers note how extraordinary the journal is in light of Flannery’s subsequent literary success and the faith that permeated her stories and novels. It is all quite remarkable.

Beyond what the reviewers marvel at, I think the person of faith has two reactions to Flannery’s writing. The first is the recognition of his or her own self in Flannery’s writing. There is instant simpatico. All of it seems to make sense, though her writing and experience remains brittle and incomplete. The second reaction is much more subtle. It is the recognition that God is working in a remarkable 21 or 22 year-old woman in ways that will bear much fruit in the future. The journal is a snapshot in the formation of a formidable soul, and it is God who is doing the forming. Flannery yearns for grace, and God is granting it by the boatload. This should be a source of great consolation for those of us who share the type of yearning expressed in the journal. God is forming the stories of our souls. Some day we will be able to articulate that story in full.

I urge you to get your hands on a copy of this book. It is beautiful. It has an odd, slender shape, and it has much space on which to write. It also contains a facsimile of the original journal.

Please consider contributing something of your own experience in reading the journal. Do you sense God working in the A Prayer Journal in the same way? I hope you will be moved to contributing something to a discussion of the book. Thank you. I wish you a prayerful Advent and a Merry Christmas.

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Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 11 months ago
Check out the reviews on Amazon for this book. One of the reviews cites that there is little printed material offered in this book for the price and feels that instead of publishing this as a book, it could have been distributed in an alternative method. The writer of that review alleges profiteering. In any case, maybe get it from a library? Here is an excellent discussion of this book broadcast on National Public Radio last month. This program originated in Boston at WBUR FM. One of the commentators on this panel knew Flannery Oconnor personally. http://onpoint.wbur.org/2013/11/12/flannery-oconnor-prayer-journal
Kevin Spinale
3 years 10 months ago
Habit of Being - Flannery O'Connor's letters edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (1988).
Kevin Spinale
3 years 10 months ago
Mr. Di Liddo, The NPR piece is quite interesting. William A. Sessions, who edits the prayer journal for Farrar, Straus and Giroux, figures prominently as a correspondent in "Habit of Being" - Sally Fitzgerald's compilation of Flannery's letters. He was a young writer who sought Flannery's advice. He eventually converted to Catholicism as a result of his interactions with Flannery. If you enjoyed this short work, I encourage you to take a look a "Habit of Being." It too can be read for spiritual reading.
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 11 months ago
Libraries in my area are just getting around to ordering this book within the past month.Three libraries are in the process of purchasing the book within this past week. One library has one copy but it is checked out, and when that copy comes back in, there is already a hold request on it, so it is not readily available. I was able to put in a request through a search service which knits together 20 different libraries in the region. Hopefully, my request will be filled so I can read the book soon. I would encourage those in our book club to seek out their copies soon. :-) Merry Christmas!
Sara Damewood
3 years 11 months ago
Popular book! There are two people ahead of me for the copy in our library system.
Sara Damewood
3 years 11 months ago
Thanks for giving two months for this! I'm still reading "Someone."
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 10 months ago
lol, Sara, I finally returned my "Someone" to the library after renewing it 3 times. I was fortunate though. Usually, a "NEW" book is non-renewable but no one else wanted it so I got to digest it a little longer. :-) I just picked up my Flannery Oconnor Prayer Journal today at the library.
Sara Damewood
3 years 11 months ago
In the spirit of the circular (rather than linear) fiction "Someone," I belatedly posted some comments on that thread this morning. However, sometimes it's good to be linear, so I'd like to make a request; will you please consider developing a schedule of books to be read over several months? That way, we could obtain the library copies and read ahead. Thanks for this book club and your interesting questions, Fr. Kevin!
Kevin Spinale
3 years 10 months ago
Ms. Damewood, Thank you for your interest and participation in the book club. In choosing books, I work hard to stay current. I scour the New York Review of Books and university presses to find interesting material. I do not want to commit to books throughout the year, but I will try to give as much notice as possible to participants in the book club. With this in mind, next month - February - will we read "The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs." It is a history of the martyrs and the shrines that memorialize them. It is a secular work, but worthy of our attention - even if believing Catholics disagree with some of the work's major premises. Engagement with the book will be fruitful.
Sara Damewood
3 years 9 months ago
Fr. Kevin, Thanks for the "heads up" and what sounds like a book I'll enjoy! Sara
Sara Damewood
3 years 9 months ago
Must be popular, because it's pricey... even in the Kindle edition! I'll try to get through inter-library loan.
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 10 months ago
I just picked up Flannery O'Connor's newly published Prayer Journal today at the library. The first thing I noticed was a black and white photo of a woman in the frontispiece. Reading the fine print, its a photo of Flannery O'Connor taken by her roommate in Iowa. Flipping through the book, it should be easier to read than "Someone". The prayer journal entries are relatively brief, many beginning with "my Dear God". I have never used a prayer journal myself (yet) for the purpose of praying but I do journal about events, experiences, travels and family. This book is quite interesting. It seems somehow similar to lectio divina only with one's own writing instead of scripture.
Kevin Spinale
3 years 10 months ago
Mr. Di Liddo, Yes, the picture of Flannery opposite the title page is striking. Some folks have thought her to be wearing a Georgetown sweatshirt, but, it is, in fact, a University of Georgia sweatshirt. She is young and unencumbered by illness. Indeed, one can use this journal or other works as lectio divina. St. Peter Faber's prayer journal is just one example.
Sara Damewood
3 years 9 months ago
Andrew, That's an interesting comparison with Lectio Divina, and I wonder if she came to use scripture the same even if she didn't write about it. Sara
Sara Damewood
3 years 9 months ago
I finally got my turn with our library's copy this afternoon. Yes, I did experience that "instant simpatico." I used to type my examen at the examen.me website and expressed the same kind of yearning for God's presence and grace. I don't remember having Scotch oatmeal cookes or erotic thoughts the last time I journalled, but I do resonate with that thought of nothing left to say of me. Instead, I have developed a more comfortable style of prayer in which I simply turn my attention to God and let God know my thoughts and feelings about whatever I'm dealing with or whoever needs prayer. Sometimes I use scripture, usually though the "pray as you go" app. I wonder if Flannery would have liked the pray-as-you-go app!

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