I see in [Flannery] O’Connor an example of a person who has integrated her faith and her art so thoroughly that they have become one practice. In an era wherein such integration is not only rare but is considered by many people in both the sacred and secular realms to be anathema, O’Connor demonstrates that this can be done and done beautifully. Her own art becomes sign and symbol of the creative force that generates and governs the world, and so her writing becomes, both in practice and in fact, a form of sacrament.
— Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, The Province of Joy:
Praying with Flannery O’Connor
First, a disclaimer: I personally am not the kind of person who uses a lot of prayer books. Give me a Bible and a copy of The Liturgy of the Hours and I have everything I need. So it might seem a bit disingenuous for me to commend two books to you that, frankly, I am not likely to use myself. But I am not everybody, and I know that for many people, finding a new prayer book can sometimes be a tremendous help on the journey into the discipline of daily prayer. And so I am happy to mention these two recently published prayer books to those who might find a new approach to written prayer helpful. Both come from the same publisher — Paraclete Press — but that really makes no difference, for they are two unique and distinctive prayer resources.
First up is The Province of Joy, created as a prayer book inspired by the life and writings of the great Southern Gothic Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor. It’s a rather deceiving concept — but in a good way — in that the book is not about praying prayers by Flannery O’Connor so much as it is using prayers that were meaningful to her (such as the Liturgical hours of Prime and Compline) and meditating on themes from her writings. It’s an interesting concept, and I would commend this not only to people who are fans of O’Connor, but even to anyone who seeks to more fully integrate prayer and artistic creativity in their lives.
I like how the book anthologizes a collection of prayers and devotional poems from authors, poets and saints who O’Connor read and expressed an interest in: folks like John Henry Newman, John Donne, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. This collection is literary, but also devotional. Art and spirituality: they belong together, and The Province of Joy offers a way to integrate these two essential dimensions of life.
The other book worth checking out is the Prayer Book of the Early Christians, which comes from Fr. John A. McGuckin, who is perhaps best known as the co-narrator of the movie Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer. McGuckin draws on both eastern and western (Orthodox and Catholic) sources to create a book that combines a simple form of the liturgy of the hours with a generous collection of prayers for special occasions (from grace before meals to prayers for those who have died), a generous collection of Psalms, and prayers by a variety of the ancient saints, including St. Basil the Great, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and St. Ephrem the Syrian. Beautifully bound in navy blue cloth with a ribbon marker, it’s a book that can be used for years to come.
What I like about both of these books is that they are respectful of liturgical prayer while also offering creative new ways to approach such traditional forms of devotion. If you’re just looking for some inspiration in your daily devotions, without too much structure, you could find either of these books useful. But each one also contains forms of daily liturgical prayer that could be especially useful to persons who are new to the idea of formal daily prayer, and as such can be wonderful introductions to this ancient spiritual practice.