From Flannery O’Connor’s Iowa Journals

13 Sep

The current New Yorker (9-16-13, pp. 26-30) provides excerpts from short-story writer (and novelist) Flannery O’Connor’s journal while she was in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1946. She was a devout Catholic. I have only begun to absorb these jottings of hers. They reflect her wrestling with her call to writing, with herself, and with God. They also remind me of other wrestlings which I and students in His120 are trying to understand in Quaker John Woolman’s Journal in His120. Here are a few samples:

My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us. I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted. I am not a philosopher or I could understand these things.

If I knew all of myself dear God, if I could discover everything in me pedantic egocentric, in any way insincere, what would I be then? But what would I do about those feelings that are now fear, now joy, that lie too deep to be touched by my understanding. I am afraid of insidious hands Oh Lord which grope into the darkness of my soul. Please be my guard against them. Please be the Cover at the top of the passage. Am I keeping my faith by laziness, dear God? But that is an idea that would appeal to someone who could only think.

******

How can I live–how shall I live. Obviously the only way to live right is to give up everything. But I have no vocation & maybe that is wrong anyway. But how eliminate this picky fish bone kind of way I do things–I want to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it–I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head–unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me. Right at present this does not seem to be His policy. I can’t write a thing. But I’ll continue to try–that is the point. And at every dry point I will be reminded Who is doing the work when it is done & Who is not doing at that moment. Right now I wonder if God will every do any more writing for me. He has promised His grace; I am not so sure about the other. Perhaps I have not been thankful enough for what has gone before.

The desires of the flesh–excluding the stomach–have been taken away from me. For how long I don’t know but I hope forever. It is a great peace to be rid of them.

Can’t anyone teach me how to pray?

******

No one can be an atheist who does not know all things. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer & he has his reasons.

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