This last Sunday, I decided that I would let go of my fear. I am beginning work on my thesis for my Master’s degree, and I am terrified. I was thinking about topics that would be easy for me to work with: education, the view of women in Victorian fiction by male writers. However, on Sunday I finally came to the conclusion that now is the time to write what I want: an in-depth analysis of the short stories of Flannery O’Connor because she is my spirit animal when it comes to religious devotion and my concept of grace.
Grace is sticky business. Grace is a gift of God. Therefore, we see grace as good. We see it as a present that was a surprise on Christmas morning. However, God does not always work within our definition of “good.” Sometimes grace comes at us in very tragic and potentially violent ways. This is the view that Flannery presents in her fiction: grace as a divine act of productive violence.
That may sound heretical. And maybe it is. Maybe I shouldn’t think about grace in such horrific ways. But I have experienced this form of grace myself. Grace came at me in a potentially tragic display of life and death over ten years ago. Thankfully, I paid attention to the way that God was trying to get my attention. Thankfully, I avoided tragedy.
In Flannery’s short fiction, it seems that she is concerned about the state of the world that she lived in. She sees the way that religious devotion has changed to consumerism, especially in the Protestant church. Sure, she was Catholic and there always has been that animosity between the Catholic Church and Protestants all the way back to the Reformation. However, we serve the same God, we believe in the same Jesus. Flannery saw the religious devotion of some people as harmful to the faith. She also saw the influence of psychology and science and the way that it led people away from God.
As Flannery came closer to her own death, her short stories appear to be more violent, more tragic, and include more acts of divine grace. She was urgent in this message: Get right with God NOW! This is what I would like to explore as I work with her fiction.
I hope I will serve her vision well.