A Prayer Journal
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"I would like to write a beautiful prayer," writes the young Flannery O'Connor in this deeply spiritual journal, recently discovered among her papers in Georgia. "There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise." Written between 1946 and 1947 while O'Connor was a student far from home at the University of Iowa, A Prayer Journal is a rare portal into the interior life of the great writer. Not only does it map O'Connor's singular relationship with the divine, but it shows how entwined her literary desire was with her yearning for God. "I must write down that I am to be an artist. Not in the sense of aesthetic frippery but in the sense of aesthetic craftsmanship; otherwise I will feel my loneliness continually . . . I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make us lonelier by reminding us of God. Dear God please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to You."
O'Connor could not be more plain about her literary ambition: "Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted," she writes. Yet she struggles with any trace of self-regard: "Don't let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story."
As W. A. Sessions, who knew O'Connor, writes in his introduction, it was no coincidence that she began writing the stories that would become her first novel, Wise Blood, during the years when she wrote these singularly imaginative Christian meditations. Including a facsimile of the entire journal in O'Connor's own hand, A Prayer Journal is the record of a brilliant young woman's coming-of-age, a cry from the heart for love, grace, and art.
metaphysical, with the element of self underlying its thoughts. Prayers should be composed I understand of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication and I would like to see what I can do with each without writing an exegesis. It is the adoration of You, dear God, that most dismays me. I cannot comprehend the exaltation that must be due You. Intellectually, I assent: let us adore God. But can we do that without feeling? To feel, we must know. And for this, when it is practically
hope to—the tongue slides over it. I think perhaps hope can only be realized by contrasting it with despair. And I am too lazy to despair. Please don’t visit me with it, dear Lord, I would be so miserable. Hope, however, must be something distinct from faith. I unconsciously put it in the faith department. It must be something positive that I have never felt. It must be a positive force, else why the distinction between it and faith? I would like to order things so that I can feel all of a piece
trying to push Him in there violently, feet foremost? Maybe that’s all right. Maybe if I’m doing it it’s all right? Maybe I’m mediocre. I’d rather be less. I’d rather be nothing. An imbecile. Yet this is wrong. Mediocrity, if that is my scourge, is something I’ll have to submit to. If that is my scourge. If I ever find out will be time to submit. I will have to have a good many opinions. 1/25/47 The majesty of my thoughts this evening! Do all these things read alike as they seem to? They all
www.twitter.com/fsgbooks • www.facebook.com/fsgbooks eISBN 9780374709693 First eBook edition: October 2013 FRONTISPIECE: Photograph by Martha Sprieser, Flannery O’Connor’s roommate at the University of Iowa (Flannery O’Connor Collection, Special Collections, Georgia College Library, Milledgeville, Georgia)
without apparent social restrictions. One of her closer creative-writing friends, a young woman, Gloria Bremerwell, with whom she had dinner many times, was African American. O’Connor may not have known that there were no barbershops in Iowa City where black males could get their hair cut at the time. The prayers in her journal naturally emerged out of the busy classrooms, libraries, and streets of Iowa City. Her dorm room, which opened onto the only bathroom on the floor, was far from private.