Angela Alaimo O'Donnell and I have been in the same room a few times, at a writer's festival that I haven't been to in a few years. It is through Facebook, however, that I feel like I've gotten to know her. It is also through Facebook that I learned that she's published a book called The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor.
I think it's fair to say that just about any Christian who is interested in literature likes Flannery O'Connor. She was a writer that seemed to engage a religious imagination while also engaging the world around us. That is, she didn't sentimentalize the faith, she put it in the grit and pleasure of real life. If a Christian writer isn't at least a little bit envious (or even covetous) of O'Connor's powers in fiction, they're probably not paying attention.
So I was intrigued by Angela's book. I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't really know what I was ordering when I ordered it.
What I found was a week's worth of devotions. The book is set up for two prayer times, morning prayer and evening prayer, with scripture readings and the innovation of readings from Flannery O'Connor's books, The Habit of Being and Mystery and Manners. After the actual prayer liturgies are completed, there is then a reflection on one of O'Connor's stories.
Last week, coincidentally the last week of the Easter season but I hadn't planned it that way, I set about the task of starting with Sunday morning and praying with Flannery (and Angela) for the whole week. The devotions are seasoned with the Roman Catholic faith of both authors, but not so much that this Protestant found it distracting. Each day had a theme and each day had repeated readings, mostly the scripture readings, for both morning and evening prayers.
I made a point of doing all the readings, repeated or not. I did my best to give into the rhythm of the prayers Angela arranged for us, and accepted the repetition as the gift that it often is. When I felt myself growing impatient with something I'd read that morning (or just a very familiar piece of scripture), I tried to slow myself down and read the text anyway, taking it all in as intentionally as I could.
What do I have to say about the experience? One, it did make me realize how much I miss the regular liturgies of prayer that I experienced in seminary, many years ago. Two, I found it a lovely thing to have a writer who was not writing scripture, not writing liturgies enter into the liturgy. I was struck by how much O'Connor wrote homilies, how she could have been a preacher.
And I found inspiration beyond the sort a reader of devotional material might look for. If I were to target an audience for this book, it would be the creative person of faith. As a writer and performer, I found what O'Connor had to say to be particularly worth pondering. I'm sure that people who don't write or otherwise engage in a creative endeavor will find much to engage their heart and mind in these pages, but from this point on, I'll be recommending this book to writers and artists of faith.
I realized late last week that I was "praying with Flannery" during the last days of Easter and that this was a fine transition into Pentecost. There were bits that felt renewing to my commitment to my creative endeavors, a stirring of the Spirit. But that's just an idiosyncratic experience. I wouldn't recommend that you wait a year until you pick up this volume. Far from it. In fact, I need to put on my calendar when I'll next spend a week with this book. It'll be well before next Easter season.