Friday, March 30, 2012

Nuts for Nillas

Admittedly, Flannery O'Connor had some pretty bizarre tastes when it came to food. She laced her coffee with Coca-Cola and put shredded cheddar cheese on top of oatmeal. When it came to snacking, however, her preferences could be rather commonplace. Her cookie of choice was Nilla Wafers. Sometimes when she was in her bedroom writing, she would have a box of them on the desk near her typewriter. One can picture Flannery munching away on these pleasantly sweet, bland treats as she was hammering out her gritty, witty prose. It's hard to imagine anything less vanilla than her short stories and novels.
- Mark


In my last post I mentioned the release of The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor by Angela Alaimo O'Connell. We received an advance copy of the book this week, and I am pleased to announce that any misgivings I may have had about it vanished when I paged through this handsome volume. It contains writings from the usual suspects (Teilhard, Aquinas, Hopkins) as well as more surprising contributors (Dostoevsky, Weil, Donne). These excerpts along with scripture quotations and prayers that Flannery herself would have said (e.g. Prayer to St. Raphael) form the scaffolding of an abbreviated daily office (morning prayer and evening prayer). Though O'Connor would probably not have used a book such as this - she was happy with her breviary and Bible - I am nevertheless looking forward to reading and praying The Province of Joy. The book sells for $16.99, and we anticipate carrying it in the Andalusia gift shop.
- Mark

Friday, March 23, 2012

Praying with Flannery

We just received some exciting news about a book soon to be released. The Province of Joy is a breviary based on themes in the writings of Flannery O'Connor. This prayer book was compiled and edited by Angela O'Donnell, poet and professor at Fordham University where she teaches English, creative writing, and American Catholic studies. According to her publisher, Paraclete Press:
"The Province of Joy is a book of hours rooted in the rich theological imagination of fiction writer, Flannery O'Connor. A lifelong Catholic devoted to liturgical prayer, O'Connor was also an avid reader and thinker who lived a rich spiritual life. Cutting a broad swath through spiritual and theological texts of every stamp, O'Connor engaged ideas about the nature of prayer and its many forms on a daily basis and often shared them in her correspondence, essays, and stories. This book brings together O'Connor's practice of prayer and the rich spiritual context within which O'Connor lived and out of which she wrote.
O'Donnell organizes this devotional around six themes:

* The False Self and the True Self
* Blindness & Vision
* Limitation & Grace
* The Mystery of the Incarnation
* Revelations & Resurrections
* The Christian Comedy.

In addition, she presents brief reflections suggesting links between the themes, readings, and prayers of the day with O'Connor's fiction. These parallels illustrate some of the ways in which O'Connor's practice of her faith and her art intersect and serve to illuminate one another."

One of the ways that O'Connor practiced her faith was praying daily the Liturgy of the Hours. We know this because one of the three books Flannery kept on her bedside table was a well-worn breviary (a book of psalms, hymns, prayers, and readings recited daily by Catholic clergy and members of certain religious orders). While I am looking forward to reading O'Donnell's book, I wonder what Flannery's reaction would be to breviary coming out based on her writings.
- Mark

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Crux of the Matter

One of the most salient features of Flannery O'Connor's fiction is the centrality of religious themes. However, this is a stumbling block for some folks who otherwise have a great appreciation f0r O'Connor's art. How, they ask, can anyone with a mind as sophisticated as Flannery's believe (in the words of Mark Twain) "something you know ain't true?" One person who may well have wrestled with this question was her good friend, Louise Abbot. In the following excerpts from an undated letter of 1959, O'Connor describes faith as being something more than intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It is, rather, a path of trust that necessarily entails suffering, even suffering with our doubts:
"I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child's faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.
What people don't realize is how much religion costs. 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. . . ."
"Whatever you do anyway, remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn't be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself. . . ."
"I don't set myself up to give spiritual advice but all I would like you to know is that I sympathize and I suffer this way myself. When we get our spiritual house in order, we'll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don't expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty. . . ." (The Habit of Being pp. 353-54)
- Mark

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Artist's Eye

This beautiful watercolor by Regina Moody depicts a scene that, quite frankly, I had heretofore overlooked. As many times as I've driven past this cast iron water pump over the last two and a half years I didn't really pay any attention to it or the cruciform valve at the top. Leave it to an artist with Ms. Moody's vision to catch my attention with such a richly symbolic scene. With the water tower in the background, the baptismal symbols of water and the cross become even more apparent. One wonders if Flannery was ever struck by this scene as she strolled about the property. I wouldn't be at all surprised if she did. Nor would I be surprised if she saw a connection between this fairly common object so rooted to daily life on the farm and the subject of her own art: grace. I think Flannery would have loved Regina Moody's painting. The way light bathes the scene with an almost mystical aura would have appealed to Flannery, who also uses light to such great effect in her novels and short stories. After seeing Ms. Moody's watercolor, I find myself now often slowing down each time I drive past the water pump. By the way, note cards of Ms. Moody's paintings are available in our gift shop for $2 each or 3 for $5.
- Mark

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hooray for Hollywood!

Hooray indeed that RKO Studios agreed to release Patrick J. O'Connor, one of their rising stars, from a three year studio contract he had signed in 1924. This actor, a recent graduate of the Catholic University of America, was bitten by the theater bug and had gone to Hollywood to seek his fortune. However, after only two years of touring with the RKO Orpheum Circuit, O'Connor felt that God was calling him to the the priesthood. When he told his producer that he needed to go to seminary, the studio reluctantly agreed to discharge him from his contractual obligation. Patrick O'Connor, a cousin of Flannery O'Connor's father, Edward, was born in Savannah in 1902, the youngest of five children. After graduating from seminary, O'Connor was ordained to the priesthood in 1933 and went on to serve in various positions throughout the diocese. In 1936 he was appointed to the faculty of his alma mater, Catholic University, as professor of Sacred Eloquence in its school of theology. In his twenty years at the university it is estimated that he taught more than 3,000 seminarians and lay students. While in Washington, Fr. O'Connor was tapped to be director of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1950. He is credited with raising more than $15 million for the construction of the shrine's main building. After leaving the nation's capital, the by-then Monsignor O'Connor went on to have a distinguished career in the archdiocese of Atlanta. In addition to his rather considerable skills as teacher, administrator, and fund-raiser, Msgr. O'Connor is remembered for his preaching eloquence. Perhaps that is why the O'Connor family asked him to offer the benediction when his cousin, Flannery, was laid to rest at Memory Hill Cemetery on August 4, 1964. The prayer that the elegant, white-haired orator said at the graveside included these words: "...and if by reason of sin she may have forfeited eternal life in heaven..." According to Brad Gooch, the prelate "rendered the word 'may' with such lack of conviction as to make the phrase superfluous." (Brad Gooch: Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor; p.370) Msgr. O'Connor retired from active ministry in 1967. He died at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta on August 1, 1980 at the age of 78. Those wishing to learn more about the remarkable life and ministry of Monsignor Patrick J. O'Connor are encouraged to check out the article by Rita H. DeLorme in the April 20, 2006 edition of Southern Cross, the newsweekly for the Diocese of Savannah.
- Mark