When she was twenty-one years old, far from home and as yet uncelebrated, Flannery O’Connor began keeping a journal to God. For the many who were moved by reading her correspondence with friends and admirers—a correspondence collected in The Habit of Being—the first publication of O’Connor’s journal in the September 16, 2013 edition of The New Yorker is a chance to revisit the workings of her mind.
Much will seem familiar. Always a seeker of knowledge, she nevertheless exhibits her characteristic wry wit regarding the limits of such pursuits: No one can be an atheist who does not know all things, she says. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer & he has his reasons.
But much will also seem new. In the journal, the young writer speaks to God in direct address. And unlike the letters, which were always meant for at least some type of public audience—if only that of the addressee—the journal was likely never meant to be seen. As such, the candor found there unveils a raw, youthful side to the otherwise tough, wise-cracking, and often cocky, O’Connor—a side that to my knowledge was seldom shown in her correspondence.
In the balance of this two-part post, I will comment on some of the passages that are particularly striking, arranged by topic. Today, I will focus on her prayers about writing.
With only one story accepted at the time of her journal (1946), O’Connor displays both zeal and anxiety about her vocation:
I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, “oh God, please,” and “I must,” and “please, please.” I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way. Let me henceforth ask You with resignation—that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind, realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not wish to presume. I want to love.