A Good Prayer-Book of a Kind: A book review

O'Connor The short life of Flannery O’Connor unleashed some of the greatest fiction the world has known. Writing as a Southerner and a Christian, her characters showcase both the grotesque and the operations of God’s grace. But what are the Spiritual disciplines that nourished the spirituality of the artist and gave O’Connor her unique literary vision? What was her prayer life like? What insights can we gain from following her practice?

In the Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O’Connor, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell has drawn together a unique prayer-book which is both a devotional work and an exploration of the prayers, poems and poetry that inspired O’Connor. As O’Donnell describes her project:

It is an attempt to assemble from materials O’Connor would have invested with authority and significance a prayer book she would not find “awful,” but instead, might see as a helpful guide for those seeking a language and format for prayer that places ancient practice within a contemporary context. It also provides an opportunity to engage the rich theological imagination of Flannery O’ Connor, to come into daily contact with her special mode of holiness–one that is grounded in an unswerving love of Christ and characterized by her extraordinary clarity of vision and a fearless commitment to her craft as a means of accomplishing good in the world(12).

The result is a window into O’Connor’s practice and exploration of various themes which are important in her work. The main part of the prayer-book is comprised of the daily office pre-Vatican II Catholic’s would have likely practiced, organized around various themes. Each day’s prayer, includes prime and compline (morning and evening prayer), various Bible readings, a ‘lectio divina’ on a passage from one of Flannery O’Connor’s letters and suggestions for further reading on the day’s theme from O’Connor’s ficiton. Here are the topics for each day:

  • Sunday: The Christian Comedy
  • Monday: The False Self & the True Self
  • Tuesday: Blindness and Vision
  • Wednesday: Limitation and Grace
  • Thursday: The Mystery of the Incarnation
  • Friday: Facing the Dragon
  • Saturday: Revelations & Resurrections

The second part of this book, draws together poetry, prayers, poems and quotations that were important to O’Connor (culled from her essays, lectures and letters). These offer a window into the things that O’Connor valued and the spirituality that nourished her.

Angela O’Donnell, herself a poet and professor at Fordham University is well acquainted with O’Connor’s works (having taught literature classes focused on her). What I liked best about this book is the ways in which the prayer practice commended here reveals a fresh Flannery O’Connor and this is testament to O’Donnell’s genius. Of course as protestant and a Northerner, some of O’Connor’s spirituality remains opaque to me, but I found enough here that provoked me to reflection and prayer. This book is a welcome addition to the library of any O’Connor fan (and if you aren’t one, it may introduce you to her).

This book was provided for me by Paraclete Press in exchange for this review.

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