Tag Archives: Advent

Why Christians Need Flannery O’Connor

A snapshot of Flannery O’Connor beside her self-portrait

I recently came across this opinion piece on CNN’s website. The title caught my eye since I’m interested in all things Christianity and, being an English teacher, I can’t help but admire and love the works of O’Connor — not to mention the fact that she was Catholic.

Before reading anything in the Belief section of the website, I always scan the credentials of the writer to see from which angle the topic is being viewed. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked to find that this piece was written by a leader associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why would the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission be praising an odd, peacock-obsessed Catholic writer?

There was only one way to find out.

I do hope you take the time to read the following article. It is a sobering critique on American evangelical Christianity and how so much of it is feel-good, seeker-friendly entertainment to justify our sense of entitlement, all the while avoiding that dreaded “s” word: sin.

The following is the original column by Russell D. Moore in its entirety:

 

On my Christmas list of gifts to buy my evangelical friends, there’s a little book of prayers.

This is less predictable than it may seem, since the prayers aren’t from a celebrity evangelical preacher, but from a morbid, quirky Catholic who spent her short life with pet peacocks and wooden-leg-stealing Bible salesman stories.

But I think Flannery O’Connor’s newly published “Prayer Journal” is exactly what Christians need, maybe especially at Christmas.

The book, recently discovered in the writer’s papers in Georgia and now published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reproduces the handwritten notebook prayers scribbled down by O’Connor during her years as a student at the University of Iowa.

The prayers are jarring because they are so personal and raw, clearly not written to “edify the saints” in a published manuscript. They are, well, just prayers.

Part of the rawness and authenticity of the prayers come with the way O’Connor refuses to sentimentalize her personal relationship with Jesus (thought it’s clear she has one). She is here constantly aware of her own fallenness and of the seeming silence of the God to whom she pours out these little notes.

O’Connor notes that her attention is “fugitive” in prayer. She confesses that hell seems more “feasible” in her mind than heaven because, “I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God.”

She is constantly second-guessing whether her prayers for success as a writer are egocentric, or a genuine striving to use the gifts God has given her.

Moreover, O’Connor is constantly aware that she is a sinner, and she can’t get around that. Perhaps the most widely publicized sentence in the book is her confession that she “proved myself a glutton, for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There’s nothing left to say of me.”

Even when she’s confessing sin, she seems aware of her sinfulness in doing that. She says of sin, “You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited,” but, she immediately concludes, “perhaps that is too literary a statement; this mustn’t get insincere.”

O’Connor’s prayers are hardly “inspirational,” in the sense that many American Christians want: a model of the “victorious Christian life” where “prayer changes things” and we’ve got “joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts, to stay.” That’s why we need them.

American evangelicalism, my own tradition, rightly emphasizes the biblical truth that the gospel is good news, that our sins are forgiven in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We rightly emphasize that the believer now has a personal connection to God, accessible in prayer through the priesthood of Jesus himself.

But sometimes we forget how hard that is in this time between the times.

Some of our worship services are so clean and antiseptic, led by grinning preachers and praise bands, talking about how happy Jesus makes us, that we forget that the Spirit prompts us to “groan” at our sin and the suffering all around us (Romans 8:22-23). This is especially true at Christmas, with so many evangelicals forgoing the dark longing of Advent to go straight to the tinsel-decked rejoicing of Christmas.

Some Christians, then, can wonder if something’s wrong with them when they feel as though God seems distant, or when, despite all the smiles at church, they still feel guilty for the way their hearts don’t seem to match up with their hymns.

But the good news isn’t that we are all put together. The good news is that though we’re wrecked and fallen and freakish, Jesus loves us anyway and has made peace for us with God and with each other. That’s not something we always feel. We see it by faith.

O’Connor, elsewhere in her letters, writes of what it means to agonize over one’s sin, to wonder “if your confessions have been adequate and if you are compounding sin on sin.” She concludes that this agony “drives some folks nuts and some folks to the Baptists,” while noting, “I feel sure that it will drive me nuts and not to the Baptists.”

Those of us who were “driven to the Baptists” can benefit from a book of prayers that remind us that the Christian life is exactly what Jesus promised it would be – the carrying of a cross.

We can be reminded in prayers such as these to remind ourselves that between now and resurrection we will never be, in ourselves, anything other than sinners. That’s why we need a Christ.

It’s only when we grapple with the darkness of a fallen cosmos, only when we’re honest about the fact that all our efforts look more like Herod’s throne than Bethlehem’s stable, that we can sing “Joy to the World.” Flannery O’Connor wasn’t an evangelical Protestant, but we need her.

We need her, especially perhaps, as we pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, for Christmas in a Christ-haunted world.

 

(Source: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/15/why-christians-need-flannery-oconnor/)

~t


Hang On

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes my illness amazes me.

I was in church just yesterday for the first Sunday of Advent. It was a joyous Mass. I loved hearing about the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament alluding to the day in the future when Christ would establish His Kingdom for all people.

I served afterward by helping my brother Knights of Columbus sell Advent wreaths in the narthex.

What a happy, faith-building day. I love Sundays because I can seek refuge for a few hours in the house of the Lord (a.k.a. the hospital for sinners).

But today (Monday) sucked. My doctor recently put me on Lamictal to stabilize my mood since the Gabapentin wasn’t helping, and suicidal ideation started to rear its ugly head again.

I’m sick and tired of being at the mercy of my emotions. It’s like Texas weather: In 30 minutes it goes from one extreme to the other in the blink of an eye.

The demons came again last night. It never fails. the closer I get to God, the stronger their offensive.

I had one of those dreams that seemed to last all night. My family and I were in a public place, like a shopping mall or a maze of connected warehouses, and I had prior knowledge of either a terrorist attack or a rampaging shooter attack.

I remember grabbing my two little sons and hoping that I could get them out of harm’s way. The worst part of it was that I had no idea when or where the attack would take place. It was like being forced to play a diabolical game-show version of Russian roulette.

In the morning, my wife said I was struggling and whimpering in my sleep for a good portion of the night.

After a hellish day at work, I came home and announced to my wife that I was going to skip dinner. I had no appetite whatsoever. I sat in our walk-in closet which doubles as my own personal chapel.

I prayed, I meditated, I read Scripture.

I can’t give up.

Getting no response from God, I sat there, massaging my temples with my eyes closed. Suddenly a slight feeling of hope entered my soul, as tiny as a grain of rice. That was all I needed, though.

I can’t not believe in God and His promises. When life drags me through a puddle of crap, it sure is comforting to know that there is a greater power waiting to rescue me and make me clean again.

Like the saying goes: When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.

~t