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The Demanding Faith of Flannery O’Connor

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In her writing, O’Connor made belief believable.

My family arrived in Atlanta in August, just before school started. To me, the South seemed a different world. Desperate to fit in, I felt unsophisticated and underdressed. Uninitiated.

What a relief that my father’s pastorate, a Presbyterian church downtown, featured the usual: Sunday school, youth group, mid-week prayer meeting, and Sunday night services. There, my new friends and I were all literate in the same Protestant way, versed in the biblical trajectory of creation, sin, guilt, grace, redemption, forgiveness. Solid doctrines that resolved uneasy mystery and pinpointed my place in the universe.

Just when I was finding my footing, my AP English teacher assigned a text by the Georgia author Flannery O’Connor. I casually asked who he was (and I didn’t make that mistake twice).

I was baffled by the O’Connor stories we read in class, alarmed when somebody got gored or blinded or shot. Freaked out by the self-blinding prophet and dying grandmother. Puzzled by the untamed theology of tent meetings. I really couldn’t see what Flannery’s Jesus-obsessed extremists could say to me, a straight-up kid raised on the Westminster Catechism, the illustrated youth Bible with leatherette cover, and mellow bonfire camp songs.

An unlikely literary sensation

Flannery O’Connor was born in the port city of Savannah, into a South far different from the 1970s Atlanta of malls and movies. The only daughter of devout Catholic parents, Flannery grew up under live oaks and Spanish moss, across the square from the cathedral where she was immersed in ritual, sacraments, and daily mass, sheltered by Sisters of Mercy—a coherent cosmos of faith. Even when her family moved from Savannah to a Milledgeville, …

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Source: Christianity Today Magazine

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