Each month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our March recommendation is offered by Victor Judge, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs.
Prayers of a Literary Theologian
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor, edited and with an introduction by W.A. Sessions, published with facsimile of entire journal in author’s handwriting; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.
On the ruled pages of a Number 110 Sterling Note Book, twenty-year-old Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) began composing prayers to God from Whom she sought Divine guidance during her graduate education at the University of Iowa. From January 1946 to September 1947, O’Connor penned her most private petitions as she discerned her vocation as a writer, and the publication in 2013 of her prayer journal introduces another literary genre to her canon. Readers of O’Connor have encountered her as a writer of short stories, novels, essays, and correspondence; however, her voice is heard now in the genre of devotional literature.
As a preconciliar Roman Catholic, O’Connor’s catechetical religious education bequeathed to her the traditional, formal prayers of the Church, but as one reads the pages of her prayer journal, one discovers a theological grammar less restrained and more intimate than in the verbal arrangement of congregational liturgical prayers. One hears repeatedly the first-person pronoun “I” in prayers to become the humble servant-writer: “I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them….Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story—just like the typewriter was mine….I want to be the best artist it is possible for me to be, under God. Dear God please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to You.”
A Prayer Journal represents a significant contribution to O’Connor scholarship, especially in the 2014-2015 academic year as the world celebrates the ninetieth anniversary of her birth, the fiftieth anniversary of her death, and her induction into the American Poets Corner at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. The volume represents also a contribution to the body of devotional literature—that repository that holds the fears, doubts, questions, and hopes of the faithful. When reading A Prayer Journal, one finds one’s voice joining the voice of O’Connor in a prayer for spiritual direction and vocational discernment.