Prayers To The Lord Of Literature

Recently the Dish noted the forthcoming publication of the prayer journals Flannery O’Connor kept as a graduate student and fledgling writer. In a two-part essay, A.G. Harmon unpacks a number of Connor’s entries, including this one about her literary ambitions:

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.

Harmon’s commentary:

O’Connor’s desperate calls for heavenly intervention are deeply resonant. Our pleas of please are all but screamed, as though God’s attention must be captured; as though he must be distracted somehow, since there’s no other explanation for the breathtaking speed with which the ever-towering failures come.

But what the writer speaks of here is that such tumult is not the right way to approach God on these matters. It smacks of a demand upon God, suggesting that his concession must be granted, given how deeply earnest the prayers are and how terribly hard the supplicant has worked.

Whether O’Connor was ever able to achieve the state she sought is unknowable, and moot, since her prayers were answered anyway. But it is the coupling of love with resignation that takes lesser souls like mine aback. That correlation—that if one loved more, he would not presume so much—implies that love allows for trust regardless of how things fall out; and trust does not exhibit itself in panic, in screams, in claims of desert.

Read Harmon’s second installment on O’Connor’s prayer journals here. Previous Dish on O’Connor here, here, and here.