When I learned that a Flannery O’Connor prayer journal was to be published, I initially pictured an empty, spiral-bound gift book with sardonic “thought for the day” quotes scattered throughout. I am relieved to report that I had the wrong idea.
The journal, written by twenty-one-year-old Flannery O’Connor in a cheap Sterling notebook and concealed in a bundle of papers, was discovered by her biographer William Sessions in 2002. This week, The New Yorker published a hefty excerpt of the little book (forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). Both Session’s introduction to the journal and The New Yorker excerpt refer to the entries as “prayers,” but considering the ongoing and unfolding nature of the monologue, “prayer” is a better description. In this case, O’Connor wasn’t a writer sitting at her typewriter crafting prayers; she was a girl pouring out her heart in longhand.
The book includes a facsimile of the notebook, written in slightly messy cursive, along with a transcription. I love the O’Connor that shines through these pages. The infinite regress known to the self-consciousness diarist is on full display as she questions the honesty of her motives for writing. After a witty remark she writes, “But I do not mean to be clever although I do mean to be clever on 2nd thought.” Deeply earnest, she chides herself when she starts writing like an author to an audience rather than a soul to her maker. But she does not, I am happy to say, repress her sense of humor. At one point she prays, “Make me a mystic, immediately.”
The young O’Connor, transplanted from Milledgeville, Georgia, to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, fears that her faith may falter. She prays, “I dread, Oh Lord, losing my faith. My mind is not strong. It is a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery.” She demonstrates ardor even as she confesses her lack of feeling. Her deepest desire is that she will glorify God with her writing. After writing a story, she prays “Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story—just like the typewriter was mine.”
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor will be released in November, and I heartily commend it to you. If you preorder now, you will have it in plenty of time to pepper your Thanksgiving prayers with O’Connorisms like, “When I think of all I have to be grateful for, I wonder that you don’t just kill me now.”
Image: Flannery O’Connor with Robie Macauley in 1947, photo by C. Cameron Macauley