Thursday, March 31, 2016

An unexpected pilgrimage

historical marker at flannery o'connor childhood home in Savannah
"All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful"; so said Flannery O'Connor, the 20th century writer who captured that struggle against God's grace better than any other. In her short 39 year life, O'Connor wrote two novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away) and a number of short stories and essays, earning her a place as one of the most critically acclaimed American writers. Her writing was always about the grace of God found in Jesus Christ, but with Southern grotesques for characters and sordid situations for plots, less careful readers sometimes miss the heart of her work. As she wrote, "Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it."

Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's farm in Milledgeville, Georgia
Mindy and I were excited to find that O'Connor's childhood home and church and the farm where she spent her later years were not far off of our route. Her farm, Andalusia in Eatonton, GA, was closed to visitors the day we drove through, but we could see the land.

Andalusia farm was closed
More important was to see her childhood home in Savannah, because O'Connor once wrote, "Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days." Flannery lived her early years with her parents in a house provided by a rich cousin who lived next door.

The bathtub held Flannery's audience
We were able to see the bathroom that she decorated for parties where, as a young child, she would invite guest to join her for readings of her own stories or more established writers like the Brothers Grimm.

St John's Catholic Church in Savannah
The young Flannery made her parents' Catholic faith her own at an early age, and probably cherished being about to see St. John's Cathedral from her window. The mother and only child would cross the park to attend mass almost every day. It's a beautiful church, inside and out.


inside St John's in Savannah
If you've never read O'Connor, I'd urge you to try it, and to patiently search for the grace to be found there. You might want to start with "A Good Man is Hard to Find", a story easy to find online. In it, a killer points out how Jesus disrupted the world in a most uncomfortable way. But do be warned that you shouldn't read Flannery O'Connor as a pleasant escape. As she wrote: "I'm always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system."
exterior of Flannery O'Connor's childhood home in Savannah