“You have got to be kidding me.” This was my first thought upon finishing Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away. “This is Catholic? How? Why? Who is this O’Connor woman?”
and I tepidly approached her again with a different outlook. This time I would be ready for our fallen reality on painful display in the mirror she holds up for us. In my second attempt with O’Connor, I read her short story
While I moved on to other Catholic writers, O’Connor lingered in the back of my mind, haunting me a bit. I didn’t really know how I felt about her , but her writing certainly left an impression. Her piercing observations of our dire need for God’s mercy, our impulse to kick that reality aside, our ability to plow through life with a mediocre faith at best struck a chord. It wasn’t until many years later, however, that I gave in to the tug of O’Connor’s works and life again. Two things had happened: I had heard her home, Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, was a great place to visit, complete with guided tour and caged peafowl, a favorite pastime obsession for Flannery; and I stumbled upon a documentary on her life and writings, part of Bishop Robert Barron’s “Pivotal Players” series. With interest surprisingly renewed, I not only wanted to try more of her short stories, I wanted to get to know her . Newly empty nesters and longing for our first extended car trip by ourselves, my husband, Michael, and I decided on a two-week “pilgrimation” (a merged pilgrimage and vacation) to Georgia, the land of Flannery O’Connor, and began planning our trip. We dug up my old copy of The Complete Stories, borrowed our son’s copy of Collected Works for her essays and letters, and poured over a map of the Southern U.S. We also added a new resource, the Flannery O’Connor Collection (Word on Fire). An anthology divided into eight chapters, each composed of one of her stories with two letters and one essay
“Revelation,” which went a little better. I had been coached to read with a sense of detachment, looking underneath the surface ugliness of the unfolding situation while also looking inward and asking, “What can I learn? Where is God at work? What is the unseen story?” The key was to be ready for an offering of grace. More often resonating through violent means, these
My sentiments bordered on bewilderment, maybe even anger, as I was sideswiped by this dark, violent story that left me hanging with depraved characters at its end and, what seemed, little else. I chose to read this 20th-century Southern writer at the suggestion of a friend. After all, O’Connor’s name appears on many lists of Catholic writers to read, experience and get to know. But after this “experience,” I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know more. I told my friend I could hardly get through the corrupt characters, the murder and grotesque scandal. He smirked as he offered, “Yea, most people need a little help with her.” Luckily for me, he was able to help me back away from the state of frustration I had internally stirred up with not “getting” O’Connor’s work,
flashpoints of divine salvation serve to shock into self-awareness both the unsuspecting protagonist of the story and the off-guard reader. “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures,” O’Connor is famously quoted in explaining her seemingly unseemly conduits of grace. Well, I had heard her with this last reading: the pain and anger of a young teenage girl, the pain and hypocrisy of an unsuspecting prideful older woman, and the grace literally slugging the woman in the face. Reading the episode felt awful, yet, strangely illuminating at the same time, like I had been through an overdue workout that had left me very sore and painfully aware of my need for more exercise.
St. Thomas Lumen Spring 2022 Page 13
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