A Prayer Journal
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
112 pp., $18.00
Praying and Writing with Flannery O'Connor
But when the urge is recognized as a desire for God, it finds God in the personhood of another. We corporeal and finite beings find it difficult to relate to a spiritual and infinite being. We seem designed to find God in other corporeal and finite beings, in each other. The preacher's exhortation to forget man and seek God temps—until we try to find God in outer space, in the abstract. The Christ of God, through the work of the indwelling Spirit, has again become incarnate in flesh and blood near us. God can be found most surely within the person of a brother or sister who has himself or herself desired, found, and is still desiring more of God.
The tragedy of sex common in our society is that most people relate only to bodies and not yet to persons. Having failed to relate to the person within the body, we cannot find God if he is within the person. Moreover, once we have found God in another, the union of bodies is not necessary and it can be reserved for the singular relationship God creates with the ultimate person for us.
On the other hand, if we live by (physical) sight rather than (spiritual) faith, desire for God is killed and nothing remains to desire but physical bodies we can sense empirically. Once we have "loved" in this perverted sense, this is all there is to love. Having had sex, he has had it.
The sex act is a religious act & when it occurs without God it is a mock act or at best an empty act. Proust is right that only a love which does not satisfy can continue. Two people can remain "in love"—a phrase made practically useless by sinking into romanticism—only if their common desire for each other unites in a greater desire for God—i.e., they do not become satisfied but more desirous together of the supernatural love in union with God.
From the foolish way we have talked about sex, borrowing as we have the perverted view of sex found all around us, we suggest sex is inherently dirty and necessarily sinful. Marriage does not as much sanctify it as license it. It is something like tolerable dirt or permissible sin. However, the Creator designed sex between humans to be the physical expression of spiritual union, a spiritual experience and, indeed, an act of worship of the God who gifted us with his very own love, a love that unites souls as surely as their bodies are united.
Sexual activity that is not spiritual action is a hollow mockery not only of spiritual but sexual relationships. Sex loses its enduring and ultimate meaning, value, and even worth. It is role playing but not experience, form without substance
Sex apart from genuine and authentic love is done when it is done. (Physical or even emotional passion, mind you, neither constitutes nor substitutes for love.) Have a smoke and do it again. What was your name, again, Babe? If you want more sex, it is only more sex you want and not more person.
Actual love is satisfactory without satisfying. It's like breathing: it is one breath after another, and this is the way we live. When two love God more, they love each other more. When two love God together, they love each other yet more. Two loving God together enables them to love God more, both intensively and extensively and both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Dear Lord, please make me want You. It would be a great bliss. Not just to want You when I think about You but to want You all the time, to think about You all the time … .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 … . The "life" it receives in writing is dead to me, the more so in that it looks alive—a horrible deception … . Oh Lord please make this dead desire living, living in life, living as it will probably have to live in suffering.
Literary critics and scholars differ, almost amusingly, as to the necessary relation of writing to life. Some are convinced the most effective writing is informed by a lived life, while others argue at least some of the most competent writers sustain a writing life that is distinct from ordinary life. Some argue that the messiness of life compromises art or that the way to create fictional characters is to cannibalize their own families and friends.
There is, nonetheless, such a thing as desiring God and coming to know life by experience with the Creator and Redeemer of life. His Son became the Man all men should have been but none ever was so that any man could become Man in him who was both God and Man. The writer who writes most informatively and convincingly about life, in the normal state of affairs, is the one who sustains not only a conceptual but experiential understanding of life.
Again, to live is to suffer (i.e., experience). Experience exacts a cost proportionate to its accomplishment.
Flannery O'Connor thought and prayed and, so, she wrote. Me, too.
Wallace Alcorn, against a background as pastor, army chaplain, and college and seminary professor, is researching and writing in the area of Christian experience.
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