Faith on Friday: O’Connor on Writing and (Not) Loving God

201311-omag-reading-7-284xfallA couple of years ago I discovered Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful book (published after she died) A Prayer Journal. It contains entries she wrote by hand (the hand-written versions are included in the book) from January of 1946 through September of 1947. She was only twenty-one when she began this short journal. For some reason I was drawn back to this journal this morning and began reading it again with my second cup of coffee.  I hear my own thoughts—my own voice—in so many of her words. It blesses me to see a (Southern) writer of O’Connor’s talent express her struggle with faith. I’ll share a few excerpts, beginning with the final entry in the journal, because I have experienced such similar feelings recently:

My thoughts are so far away from God. He might as well not have made me. And the feeling I egg up writing here lasts approximately a half hour and seems a sham. I don’t want any of this artificial superficial feeling stimulated by the choir. Today I have proved myself a glutton—for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There is nothing left to say of me.

When I first read this I thought someone had been listening in on my confessions! Just replace scotch oatmeal cookies with homemade fudge (the object of my gluttony last week) and the rest fits. A priest once asked me—after giving me absolution after my confession—“Do you love God?” I answered that I must not, or else I would behave differently. But I WANT TO love God, so that’s a start. Again O’Connor’s words bless me:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and myself is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.

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Reading her words here makes me wonder if I struggle with loving God because I love myself too much.  Or I am too much concerned with my work, with my success. I am heartened that O’Connor expresses this same concern several times in her journal:

 

I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do….

Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted….

Oh dear God I want to write a novel, a good novel. I want to do this for a good feeling & for a bad one. The bad one is uppermost. The psychologists say it is the natural one….

But later (is she making spiritual “progress”?) she says:

I want so 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.

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So there it is—the dichotomy I face every day. But perhaps also a way to face it, by acknowledging God’s gifts to me. And by continuing to ask God to help me love Him, as O’Connor entreated Him:

Dear Lord please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss…. Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You for even this I cannot do for myself.

[You can read more excerpts in this New Yorker article from September of 2013.]

 

6 comments


  • I love this!

    December 19, 2015
    • Thanks, Karissa. That means a lot coming from a fellow struggler:-)

      December 19, 2015
  • Thank you for this intimate and moving post. I wonder, though, if the issue of not being able to love God as you feel you should is tied to loving yourself too much or too little. God’s love is boundless and unconditional; human love, whether for self or others, is necessarily limited by comparison, but it is a lens for us to try to perceive the mystery that is God’s Love. Sometimes it is easier to see and condemn our sin than to see and celebrate the awesomeness of the in-dwelling Spirit with which God has gifted us.

    December 19, 2015
    • Thanks so much for those words, Joanne. I’m pondering them….

      December 19, 2015
  • Wonderful post, Susan. I identify with this completely. (I also happen to greatly appreciate Flannery O’Connor. You’ve given a new book to read!) Thank you for this.

    December 19, 2015
    • Have you read her “Letters”? Also wonderful.

      December 19, 2015

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