A spiritual envy

Hey all.

It’s been a while; I’ve been busy and honestly I’m too tired to write anything particularly substantial tonight. But I stumbled across this article by Marian Ryan on Flannery O’Connor’s prayer diary, which was recently published:

When I was diagnosed with a rare muscle disease a dozen years ago, it hit me that I didn’t believe in God. Maybe “hit me” is too strong a way to put it. I just gradually realized that I wasn’t praying to God to help me stay well, to understand or accept the news, not “offering it up” or asking, Why me? There was nothing there, merely a nonexistent connection, although I’d been raised by faithful parents and educated for 16 years in Catholic schools. But then my father died, several years later, and I wanted to know that he still somehow continued. He simply could not have been extinguished—that was unthinkable. For a while I went to Masses said in his name, and just recently I brought home his old set of rosary beads, on which the crucifix is missing—his final set was buried with him. Could he be praying still? I wonder. I envy his devotion.


In much the same way, I’m jealous of Flannery O’Connor, though she’s been dead nearly 50 years. I envy her not only because she was brilliant, the maker of astoundingly original and subversive works of art, but because she believed in God. She believed in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. She believed in the Redemption, and Life Everlasting. She believed, with an unerring rigor, in the supernatural, and that God’s grace could open up upon us at our most dire moments and, if we accepted its gift, make us—fleetingly at least—better beings.

O’Connor believed in Catholic doctrine with a confidence and surety that sustained her through battles with lupus, her own debilitating and finally fatal disease, as well as her daily routines: from early morning Mass to the writing desk and through her interchanges with extended family and the clans of peafowl strutting through the yard of her family estate. She was anchored in a way that the nonbeliever can never be. In many of her essays about being a Catholic writer, she wrote that her faith, rather than imposing limits, left her free to observe the ways of the world around her. Did this help her achieve such heights of originality and confidence? In her powerful stories and novels—nearly every one a tour de force—her judgment, though coupled always with wit, is formidable, rolling over us like the tractor that bears down on the Displaced Person’s backbone while Mrs. McIntyre locks eyes with the help.

It’s interesting – you don’t see too much of that sort of envious disbelief these days. Most of the expressions of atheism and agnosticism I find tend to go beyond unbelief and towards finding the Christian worldview to be morally horrifying; something someone shouldn’t even want to be true. We share less and less presuppositions as time goes on, I suppose.

As hinted above, one of the side-benefits of, well, belonging to any sort of traditional religion here in North America is an ability to see the world you live in through a stranger’s glasses. Things that seemed banal or unquestionable start to feel foreign and arbitrary. Mind you, I’ve tended to see my lot in life as being a sort of misfit, so no doubt I interpret some of my experiences on the other side of the Tiber along these lines.

To a certain extent, being a weirdo is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, and no doubt I am less alone in that perception than it often feels.

…and I’m getting off topic.


About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
This entry was posted in Catholicism, fragments of culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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