Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O'ConnorDoug Jones writes in a recent issue of Credenda/Agenda about Flannery O’Connor’s grace-bathed fiction. (I’ve included a few quotes above.) The kicker quote for me in his essay is from Ms. O’Connor herself. She points out that most people eschew a “dark, disruptive grace” for one that is “warm and binding.” Such a view stands out in stark relief today, one day after the deadliest campus shooting in American history.

Where is grace in such a situation? How do you address such a situation without platitudes or cruelty? It’s too easy to dismiss such an event as pure evil and never consider how God’s common grace might have intervened, or how it might effect specific grace in the lives of people around it. I’m not trying to downplay the work of the evil one in our world, but neither do I want to fall into the equal and opposite error of overemphasizing it.

Too few writers–indeed, too few Christians, myself included–have any interest in real grace. Grace, to many modern folks, is a teddy bear, a blanky to cuddle up with, ducklings at Easter. We praise it in saccharine-sweet songs in countless churches, till we cannot recognize its influence in our world or our lives.

One of my favorite books is The Lord of the Rings. Author J.R.R. Tolkien created one of his most compelling characters in Gollum, Frodo’s traitorous companion on his long journey. Beside faithful Samwise Gamgee, Gollum looks to be the evil one’s hand in Frodo’s life. He’s wiry, strong and tougher than he looks, and he’d like nothing better than to wrest the Ring from Frodo–throttling Frodo in the process. For those reasons, anyone in their right mind would have left him behind. And yet Frodo didn’t. Gollum ultimately succeeds in his quest for the Ring, but with a surprising and grace-filled result.

Real grace is very much like Gollum. Spiny and tough, thick-skinned and agile, it can withstand the attacks of the devil and his minions. It can withstand the weather of the fallen world. What it can’t withstand is our dismissing it, in all its frustrating wonder, from our lives.

I pray I never walk a road like Frodo’s, or like that of those students and faculty in Blacksburg. I pray, too, that if I do find myself on that dark path, I have the courage to invite grace along.

(These are a couple of clips from this excellent essay about Flannery O’Connor. There’s a lot more worth reading, so if this whets your appetite, read Doug Jones’ full essay at Credenda.org.)

clipped from www.credenda.org
Dark and Disruptive GraceStill, something’s odd about selling Flannery to Christians. Even when people know about her superior technique and Christian frames, they still usually choke after a story or two. Too rough. Too troubling. They’re not hard to read, they’ll admit, but still, there’s all that weirdness
and death.

And that’s what disturbs many readers. They don’t want their grace black. It feels like an alien faith to them, and they resist it. O’Connor herself heard this complaint. In her essay “The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South,” she argued against that pietism typical of
Christian readers: “The reader wants his grace warm and binding, not dark and disruptive.”

That sort of writing goes down easier because we don’t really believe it. It feels like someone else’s world. It’s alien enough
that we’re not truly threatened. But O’Connor’s world is too close. And if her picture of dark grace is right, then our typical take on life fails.

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2 thoughts on “Flannery O’Connor”

  1. I am, sadly, not up on my O’Conner; however, Dr. Keller is a huge fan and quotes from her regularly. So I’m intrigued and want to read more of her work.

    As for grace, albeit dark. Thank you for recognizing that fact. I was having a conversation with a friend about God. In more or less words, my friend said that he could not wrap his mind around the violence and judgement of the God of the Old Testament. I was left feeling a little confused, but then I realized how limiting his view of God was. If God is the great I AM, if God is love, if God is all powerful, we must accept that He can work however He wills. If God works all things together for our good, we must accept the all things (thanks, Frances Schafer).

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