As tomorrow is Sunday, and every Sunday I am woefully unprepared for morning Liturgy—the state of my mind and heart (the nous as my fellow Orthodoxians like to say when we’re feeling spiritually in-the-know) being completely taken up by shoes and socks and curly bed heads and negotiations over which one toy is church-appropriate to take (i.e. won’t come apart and roll under the pew before or behind us and cannot be turned into anything resembling a hammering device) and non-debates involving the plaintive moan of “But I don’t want to go to church”—well, I’m sitting down to write a spell. It’s the only way I can figure to get myself in the right nous-space, if you will. Besides, I needed a reason to tear myself away from my new favorite BBC Masterpiece Mystery Series: Inspector Lewis. And it’s too late to work on the catalog.
[For those of you who care to know, the idea of the nous is something akin to the eye of the soul. Right. Like that cleared anything up. It is reason, but also more than just thinking. Some of the Church Fathers refer to the nous as the heart. As the Orthodox Wiki succinctly puts it: the nous is “the center of man and is where true (spiritual) knowledge is validated.”]
“The chief concern of the Orthodox Church is the healing of the human soul,” writes the Orthodox priest, Fr. John Romanides. When I forget exactly why it is I became Orthodox, when I lose my way and doubt begins to seep through the many cracks in the fragile casing by which I futilely attempt to protect my heart (which pretty much looks like self-isolation), when I finally come back round to knowing I need to repent but not knowing just what I’m repenting for because my soul is spread so very thin and prayer is non-existent, I am given to remember that healing bit. How much I need it. How the Orthodox Church is where I truly acknowledged that need for the first time and was presented with a way to work toward that healing. Something other than thinking myself into a castigating, guilt-ridden corner of my psyche, which usually included many journal pages filled with angsty pleas for help to God. Maybe those angsty pleas weren’t so pointless after all. God led me to the Church. He gave me my family.
Which brings me to Flannery O’Connor, the last person I would have imagined was capable of angsty journal entries. But hey, she was 20 once too. The New Yorker recently published some excerpts from (what seems to be) her prayer journal during that time and, initially, I was horrified. I am pretty sure that she would have never, I mean Never, wanted those entries read by anyone. But as most of the people who knew her or had any say in her literary estate have all gone on, as they say, I imagine there was no stopping it from happening. There are some interesting bits concerning her definition of perversion (“Perversion is the end result of denying or revolting against supernatural love”), and read closely, the entries are all prayers. All the more reason it shouldn’t have been published. But it was. And I guess I wasn’t horrified enough not to read it.
But I know her prayers. I have prayed some of her prayers myself. Most recently, “Dear Lord, please make me want You.” She goes on to incorporate the act of writing in relationship to this want:
It is easy for this writing to show a want. There is a want but it is abstract and cold, a dead want that goes well into writing because writing is dead. Writing is dead. Art is dead, dead by nature, not killed by unkindness. I bring my dead want into the place the dead place it shows up most easily, into writing.
I can’t tell you just what it is she’s saying here, though to me, it circles back to the fleeting nature of this world. To her belief that the only good in her God put there. That it is God praying these prayers through her. That everything is given.
And she’s so very stern with herself as she puts it all out there, but just a little funny too:
My thoughts are so far away from God. He might as well not have made me. And the feeling I egg up writing here lasts approximately a half hour and seems a sham. I don’t want any of this artificial superficial feeling stimulated by the choir. Today I have proved myself a glutton—for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There is nothing left to say of me.
Flannery O’Connor wants a living want, not the skeleton of a thought. Not just words. She wants flesh on those bones. Which is a way of saying she wants Christ. She’s been wanting him all along. Look at me! My evangelical roots are poking through!
She also wants to write a good novel. I like that about her.