Saturday, November 12, 2016

Uncommon Grace. . . worth the watching

Flannery O'Connor remains one of my favorite writers.  Though she penned only 2 novels and 32 short stories, her literary output was of sterling quality.  Though she was certain no one had any interest in her life -- “Lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy”-- her life story remains an urgent pursuit among many.  You can watch what just might be the most thorough review of her life (she died in 1964) in the documentary Uncommon Grace:  The Life of Flannery O'Connor (available on DVD here).

She lived with great limitations -- growing up in the backwoods of Georgia with a chicken who walked backwards, suffering grave physical ailments that caused her much pain, and living a brief life -- she was more than profound in the way she wove faith into her work.  It was, perhaps, therapeutic.  She dealt with all the troubles and trials of her life by being a daily communicant at mass and manifesting a humble attitude before the Lord: “The mind serves best when it’s anchored in the Word of God,” she wrote among the many signal quotations in her collection of letters -- words that sound just like the Lord (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom) but translated through her own particular lens.   “Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument of Your story,” she wrote in her diary (discovered well after she died).  Would that every Christian viewed the story of his or her own life in the same way!

She is not for those searching for a sanitized life.  Her stories are filled with violence.  According to O’Connor: “My subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil.”  Yet in the midst of it all you find the lost at the moment when redemption offers itself -- the moment when you are thrown up against the questions at the core of life -- who you are, where you are, why you are.  Her witness deposits good and ill, virtue and vice, suffering and peace within the hands of God who alone makes sense of it all.

I listen to her own reading of A Good Man Is Hard to Find every now and then just to rekindle my own fascination with her voice, her talent, her literary skill, and her faith. 

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Flannery O'Connor reflected some of the resilient qualities of the devoted and faithful Catholics I knew in my youth, Staunchly Irish, tough as nails, courageous in the face of adversity. My father, a Bronx born orphan whose parents both died from influenza or alcoholism at the turn of the 20th century was raised by a religious Catholic grandmother whose photographs reveal a stoicism born out of hard times. The Catholic Church, the nuns, brothers and priests, and all the Irish traditions, infighting, and mean streets of New York City were my father's youthful environment. Because I am only half Irish, and half German, I did not gravitate to the Irish side with the same passion as my father remained Catholic until he died at 95 years old. Somehow, it seemed to me I could not continue praying to Mary and the numberless saints which are designated to petition. It seemed to take too much away from Jesus, and so I felt, and still do, that substitutions for Christ, even exercised sincerely and with conviction, are the major faults with Catholicism and a reason to leave it.