Friday, June 28, 2013

Mystical Mentor

A quick overview of the books in Flannery O'Connor's library reveals that she did not have much of a taste for mysticism or contemplative writing.  Sure, she owned and read some of the basic texts, but it just wasn't her cup of tea (see, for example, her letter to Ted Spivey - The Habit of Being, p. 297).  She was drawn more to the theological giants of the church and read everyone from Thomas Aquinas to Romano Guardini.  Not surprisingly, a more structured prayer life also was more suited to her spiritual temperament.  She prayed the rosary, the daily office, and, of course, attended mass almost every day.  Beyond these practices, she recited formal prayers such as the Prayer to St. Raphael (see the post for May 31). When it came to silent contemplation, she felt it was better to leave that to the monks at Conyers.  There was one writer on Christian mysticism, however, she endorsed enthusiastically and whose magnum opus, The Mystical Element of Religion as Studied in Saint Catherine of Genoa and Her Friends, she encouraged others to read: Friedrich von Hugel (1852-1925).   As important and indispensable as von Hugel's book may be, it is also very, very difficult.  Take it from me, I gave this two volume doorstop a try, and finally had to throw in the towel.  More my speed is Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness.  First published in 1911, this volume by Evelyn Underhill remains the most read introduction to mysticism in the English language.  Even Flannery, who had a general distrust of Anglicans, praised this "mine of information." (The Habit of Being, p. 116).
- Mark

No comments: