I first started reading the works of Flannery O’Connor in 1975. A friend at the company I then worked for introduced me to A Good Man is Hard to Find, and I was hooked. I read all of her fiction; Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose; and The Habit of Being, her letters as collected and compiled by Sally Fitzgerald.
O’Connor was a Southern writer, yes, but she transcended the region. She was a literary writer, and her reputation grew, and grew mightily, after her death from lupus in 1964.
Her characters and plots can seem strange when you first start reading, and can be jarring and disconcerting. But as you read her fiction, you learn that behind the misfits and charlatans and con-men are the universal themes of grace and redemption.
Another odd thing about her writing, and this may very well be what originally pulled me into it, was that she was a devout Catholic writer writing within (and often about) a largely Protestant South. For a reader like me, a Protestant raised in largely Catholic New Orleans, her writing was almost instantly familiar, in both a specific and a general sense. I knew what it was to feel something of a misfit in my culture.
O’Connor prayed, too, and she prayed in accordance with her Catholic faith. In The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O’Connor, author and poet Angela Alaimo O’Donnell has a created a devotional guide, on that reflects both O’Connor’s Catholic faith and the themes of her writing.
O’Donnell structures the book for a full seven-day week, with devotions and prayer for both morning and evening. Each day has a theme, and the order of the devotional is far more structured than what might be familiar to most Protestants (and even some Catholics).
The main elements for each time of prayer are a gospel meditation; a psalm; a reading; a quotation from O’Conner’s writings; a canticle or song; the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer to St. Raphael in the mornings; and a concluding prayer. The canticles, the Lord’s prayer and the prayer to St. Raphael are repeated each day, and while it may seem repetitive at first, in practice it is not. It’s a kind of liturgy that becomes new and different with each day’s theme.
The evening canticle is the Magnificat of Mary, her song in response to learning from Gabriel that she would give birth to the Messiah. In this devotion, however, Mary’s song becomes our song, providing a depth of understanding that I hadn’t previously encountered, in spite of the number of times I’ve read it.
O’Donnell provides a solid introduction to O’Connor and her works, and includes a number of resources (and prayers) in the appendix. The daily readings also include information for additional consideration and reflection.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading it, but The Province of Joy, like the author who inspired it, takes us to a different, more insightful place in our faith.