Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.
I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, “oh God, please,” and “I must,” and “please, please.” I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way. Let me henceforth ask You with resignation—that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind, realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not wish to presume. I want to love.
Oh God please make my mind clear.
Please make it clean.
I ask You for a greater love for my holy Mother and I ask her for a greater love for You.
Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.
I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to You. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologists about this make it turn suddenly cold. My intellect is so limited, Lord, that I can only trust in You to preserve me as I should be.
Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate. I dread, oh Lord, losing my faith. My mind is not strong. It is a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery. I do not want it to be fear which keeps me in the Church. I don’t want to be a coward, staying with You because I fear hell. I should reason that if I fear hell, I can be assured of the author of it. But learned people can analyze for me why I fear hell and their implication is that there is no hell. But I believe in hell. Hell seems a great deal more feasible to my weak mind than heaven. No doubt because hell is a more earthly-seeming thing. I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God. It is natural that I should not imagine this. If we could accurately map heaven some of our up-&-coming scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10¢ the copy to all over sixty-five. But I do not mean to be clever although I do mean to be clever on 2nd thought and like to be clever & want to be considered so. But the point more specifically here is, I don’t want to fear to be out, I want to love to be in; I don’t want to believe in hell but in heaven. Stating this does me no good. It is a matter of the gift of grace. Help me to feel that I will give up every earthly thing for this. I do not mean becoming a nun.
My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us. I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted. I am not a philosopher or I could understand these things.
If I knew all of myself dear God, if I could discover everything in me pedantic egocentric, in any way insincere, what would I be then? But what would I do about those feelings that are now fear, now joy, that lie too deep to be touched by my understanding. I am afraid of insidious hands Oh Lord which grope into the darkness of my soul. Please be my guard against them. Please be the Cover at the top of the passage. Am I keeping my faith by laziness, dear God? But that is an idea that would appeal to someone who could only think.
My dear God, I do not want this to be a metaphysical exercise but something in praise of God. It is probably more liable to being therapeutical than metaphysical, with the element of self underlying its thoughts. Prayers should be composed I understand of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication and I would like to see what I can do with each without writing an exegesis. It is the adoration of You, dear God, that most dismays me. I cannot comprehend the exaltation that must be due You. Intellectually, I assent: let us adore God. But can we do that without feeling? To feel, we must know. And for this, when it is practically impossible for us to get it ourselves, not completely, of course, but what we can, we are dependent on God. We are dependent on God for our adoration of Him, adoration, that is, in the fullest sense of the term. Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You, for even this I cannot do for myself. Give me the grace to adore You with the excitement of the old priests when they sacrificed a lamb to You. Give me the grace to adore You with the awe that fills Your priests when they sacrifice the Lamb on our altars. Give me the grace to be impatient for the time when I shall see You face to face and need no stimulus than that to adore You. Give me the grace, dear God, to see the bareness and the misery of the places where You are not adored but desecrated.
Dear God, I am so discouraged about my work. I have the feeling of discouragement that is. I realize I don’t know what I realize. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted. That is so far from what I deserve, of course, that I am naturally struck with the nerve of it. Contrition in me is largely imperfect. I don’t know if I’ve ever been sorry for a sin because it hurt You. That kind of contrition is better than none but it is selfish. To have the other kind, it is necessary to have knowledge, faith extraordinary. All boils down to grace, I suppose. Again asking God to help us be sorry for having hurt Him. I am afraid of pain and I suppose that is what we have to have to get grace. Give me the courage to stand the pain to get the grace, Oh Lord. Help me with this life that seems so treacherous, so disappointing.
Dear God, tonight it is not disappointing because you have given me a story. Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story—just like the typewriter was mine. Please let the story, dear God, in its revisions, be made too clear for any false & low interpretation because in it, I am not trying to disparage anybody’s religion although when it was coming out, I didn’t know exactly what I was trying to do or what it was going to mean. I don’t know now if it is consistent. Please don’t let me have to scrap the story because it turns out to mean more wrong than right—or any wrong. I want it to mean that the good in man sometimes shows through his commercialism but that it is not the fault of the commercialism that it does.
Perhaps the idea would be that good can show through even something that is cheap. I don’t know. But dear God, I wish you would take care of making it a sound story because I don’t know how, just like I didn’t know how to write it but it came. Anyway it all brings me to thanksgiving, the third thing to include in prayer. When I think of all I have to be thankful for I wonder that You don’t just kill me now because You’ve done so much for me already & I haven’t been particularly grateful. My thanksgiving is never in the form of self sacrifice—a few memorized prayers babbled once over lightly. All this disgusts me in myself but does not fill me with the poignant feeling I should have to adore You with, to be sorry with or to thank You with. Perhaps the feeling I keep asking for is something again selfish—something to help me to feel that everything with me is all right. And yet it seems only natural but maybe being thus natural is being thus selfish. My mind is a most insecure thing, not to be depended on. It gives me scruples at one minute & leaves me lax the next. If I must know all these things through the mind, dear Lord, please strengthen mine.
My dear God, Supplication. This is the only one of the four I am competent in. It takes no supernatural grace to ask for what one wants and I have asked You bountifully, oh Lord. I believe it is right to ask You too and to ask our Mother to ask You, but I don’t want to overemphasize this angle of my prayers. Help me to ask You, oh Lord, for what is good for me to have, for what I can have and do Your service by having.
I have been reading Mr. Kafka and I feel his problem of getting grace. But I see it doesn’t have to be that way for the Catholic who can go to Communion every day. The Msgr. today said it was the business of reason, not emotion—the love of God. The emotion would be a help. I realized last time that it would be a selfish one. Oh dear God, the reason is very empty. I suppose mine is also lazy. But I want to get near You. Yet it seems almost a sin to suggest such a thing even. Perhaps Communion doesn’t give the nearness I mean. The nearness I mean comes after death perhaps. It is what we are struggling for and if I found it either I would be dead or I would have seen it for a second and life would be intolerable. I don’t know about this or anything. It sounds puerile my saying anything so obvious.
My dear God, to keep myself on a course, I am going to consider Faith, Hope, and Charity. Now Faith. Of the three, this gives me the most mental pain. At every point in this educational process, we are told that it is ridiculous and the arguments sound so good it is hard not to fall into them. The arguments might not sound so good to someone with a better mind; but my mental trappings are as they are, and I am always on the brink of assenting—it is almost a subconscious assent. Now how am I to remain faithful without cowardice when these conditions influence me like they do. I can’t read the particular depths of myself that say something about this. There is something down there that is feeling—it is under the subconscious assent—in a certain way about this. It may be that which is holding me in. Dear God, please let it be that instead of that cowardice the psychologists would gloat so over & explain so glibly. And please don’t let it be what they so jubilantly call water-tight compartments. Dear Lord, please give the people like me who don’t have the brains to cope with that, please give us some kind of weapon, not to defend us from them but to defend us from ourselves after they have got through with us. Dear God, I don’t want to have invented my faith to satisfy my weakness. I don’t want to have created God to my own image as they’re so fond of saying. Please give me the necessary grace, oh Lord, and please don’t let it be as hard to get as Kafka made it.
Dear God, About hope, I am somewhat at a loss. It is so easy to say I hope to—the tongue slides over it. I think perhaps hope can only be realized by contrasting it with despair. And I am too lazy to despair. Please don’t visit me with it, dear Lord, I would be so miserable. Hope, however, must be something distinct from faith. I unconsciously put it in the faith department. It must be something positive that I have never felt. It must be a positive force, else why the distinction between it and faith? I would like to order things so that I can feel all of a piece spiritually. I don’t suppose I order things. But all my requests seem to melt down to one for grace—that supernatural grace that does what ever it does. My mind is in a little box, dear God, down inside other boxes inside other boxes and on and on. There is very little air in my box. Dear God, please give me as much air as it is not presumptuous to ask for. Please let some light shine out of all the things around me so that I can. What it amounts to I suppose is be selfish. Is there no getting around that, dear God? No escape from ourselves? Into something bigger? Oh dear God I want to write a novel, a good novel. I want to do this for a good feeling & for a bad one. The bad one is uppermost. The psychologists say it is the natural one. Let me get away dear God from all things thus “natural.” Help me to get what is more than natural into my work—help me to love & bear with my work on that account. If I have to sweat for it, dear God, let it be as in Your service. I would like to be intelligently holy. I am a presumptuous fool, but maybe the vague thing in me that keeps me in is hope.
Dear God, In a way I got a good punishment for my lack of charity to Mr. Rothburg [a fellow workshop student] last year. He came back at me today like a tornado which while it didn’t hurt me too much yet ruined my show. All this is about charity. Dear Lord please make my mind vigilant about that. I say many many too many uncharitable things about people everyday. I say them because they make me look clever. Please help me to realize practically how cheap this is. I have nothing to be proud of yet myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule. Please help me to stop this selfishness because I love you, dear God.
How can I live—how shall I live. Obviously the only way to live right is to give up everything. But I have no vocation & maybe that is wrong anyway. But how eliminate this picky fish bone kind of way I do things—I want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me. Right at present this does not seem to be His policy. I can’t write a thing. But I’ll continue to try—that is the point. And at every dry point I will be reminded Who is doing the work when it is done & Who is not doing it at that moment. Right now I wonder if God will ever do any more writing for me. He has promised His grace; I am not so sure about the other. Perhaps I have not been thankful enough for what has gone before.
The desires of the flesh—excluding the stomach—have been taken away from me. For how long I don’t know but I hope forever. It is a great peace to be rid of them.
Can’t anyone teach me how to pray?
No one can be an atheist who does not know all things. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer & he has his reasons.
The majesty of my thoughts this evening! Do all these things read alike as they seem to? They all send a faint nausea through me—albeit they were sincere at the time & I recant none of my articles of faith. This evening I picture theoretically myself at seventy saying it’s done, it’s finished, it’s what it is, & being no nearer than I am. This moral turpitude at seventy won’t be tolerable. I want a revolution now, a mild revolution, something that will put an even 20th cen. asceticism into me at least when I pass the grocery.
The intellectual & artistic delights God gives us are visions & like visions we pay for them; & the thirst for the vision doesn’t necessarily carry with it a thirst for the attendant suffering. Looking back I have suffered, not my share, but enough to call it that but there’s a terrific balance due.
To maintain any thread in the novel there must be a view of the world behind it & the most important single item under this view of world is conception of love—divine, natural, & perverted. It is probably possible to say that when a view of love is present—a broad enough view—no more need be added to make the world view.
Freud, Proust, Lawrence have located love inside the human & there is no need to question their location; however, there is no need either to define love as they do—only as desire, since this precludes Divine love, which, while it too may be desire, is a different kind of desire—Divine desire—and is outside of man and capable of lifting him up to itself. Man’s desire for God is bedded in his unconscious & seeks to satisfy itself in physical possession of another human. This necessarily is a passing, fading attachment in its sensuous aspects since it is a poor substitute for what the unconscious is after. The more conscious the desire for God becomes, the more successful union with another becomes because the intelligence realizes the relation in its relation to a greater desire & if this intelligence is in both parties, the motive power in the desire for God becomes double & gains in becoming God-like. The modern man isolated from faith, from raising his desire for God into a conscious desire, is sunk into the position of seeing physical love as an end in itself. Thus his romanticizing it, wallowing in it, & then cynicizing it. Or in the case of the artist like Proust of his realizing that it is the only thing worth life but seeing it without purpose, accidental, and unsatisfying after desire has been fulfilled. Proust’s conception of desire could only be that way since he makes it the highest point of existence—which it is—but with nothing supernatural to end in. It sinks lower & lower in the unconscious, to the very pit of it, which is hell. Certainly hell is located in the unconscious even as the desire for God is. The desire for God may be in a superconsciousness which is unconscious. Satan fell into his libido or his id whichever is the more complete Freudian term.
Perversion is the end result of denying or revolting against supernatural love, descending from the unconscious superconscious to the id. Where perversion is disease or result of disease, this does not apply since no free will operates. 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 stinking 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. My God, take these boils & blisters & warts of sick romanticism.
Dear Lord, please make me want You. It would be the greatest 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, to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be the Fulfillment. It is easy for this writing to show a want. 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, not killed by unkindness. I bring my dead want into the place the dead place it shows up most easily, into writing. This has its purpose if by God’s grace it will wake another soul; but it does me no good. The “life” it receives in writing is dead to me, the more so in that it looks alive—a horrible deception. But not to me who knows this. Oh Lord please make this dead desire living, living in life, living as it will probably have to live in suffering. I feel too mediocre now to suffer. If suffering came to me I would not even recognize it. Lord keep me. Mother help me.
What I am asking for is really very ridiculous. Oh Lord, I am saying, at present I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately. But then God can do that—make a mystic out of cheeses. But why should He do it for an ingrate slothful & dirty creature like me. I can’t stay in the church to say a Thanksgiving even and as for preparing for Communion the night before—thoughts all elsewhere. The Rosary is mere rote for me while I think of other and usually impious things. But I would like to be a mystic and immediately. But dear God please give me some place, no matter how small, but let me know it and keep it. If I am the one to wash the second step everyday, let me know it and let me wash it and let my heart overflow with love washing it. God loves us, God needs us. My soul too. So then take it dear God because it knows that You are all it should want and if it were wise You would be all it would want and the times it thinks wise. You are all it does want, and it wants more and more to want You. Its demands are absurd. It’s a moth who would be king, a stupid slothful thing, a foolish thing, who wants God, who made the earth, to be its Lover. Immediately.
If I could only hold God in my mind. If I could only always just think of Him.
My thoughts are so far away from God. He might as well not have made me. And the feeling I egg up writing here lasts approximately a half hour and seems a sham. I don’t want any of this artificial superficial feeling stimulated by the choir. Today I have proved myself a glutton—for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There is nothing left to say of me.
In January, 1946, while studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Flannery O’Connor began keeping a journal in a ruled Sterling notebook. O’Connor, who had left her home in Milledgeville, Georgia, for Iowa, turned twenty-one in March and had her first short story, “The Geranium,” accepted for publication that month. She was a devout Catholic, and over a year and a half she filled the notebook with a series of entries addressed to God. These excerpts from her journal chart her thoughts on the subject of faith and prayer, and her hopes for her fiction.