The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O’Connor by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (Paraclete Press, 160 Pages, May 2012)
Flannery O’Connor is one of the greats of American Literature. Her Southern Gothic style and her particular emphasis on themes of redemption, grace, and the interaction between good and evil are second to no other author I’ve encountered. My experience with Flannery O’Connor did not begin in the classroom. I’m a B.A. in English that fell in love with the Romantics and somehow bypassed O’Connor’s stories along the way. While I’ve lamented that I didn’t encounter O’Connor until two or three years ago, I also stand in the camp that says that some books come along at the “right time.”
I first encountered O’Connor during an episode of LOST—the one television show that made my philosophy, literature, and theology-loving brain very happy. It was in one key episode of the show that I saw a character (Jacob, for you LOSTies) reading O’Connor’s Everything That Rise Must Converge—the last collection of short stories she wrote before her death. Naturally, I couldn’t help but buy the collection and read it. Not only did it provide insight into LOST, but it also introduced me to the beauty of Flannery O’Connor’s writing.
When I was asked to review this recent release by Paraclete Press I jumped at the opportunity. I was curious to find out how the author would incorporate Flannery O’Connor and her work into a book on prayer. I knew of O’Connor’s strong Catholic faith and how her stories explored themes of Christianity, but I was skeptical about a book that would merge one of my literary favorites with prayer. I am a skeptic no more.
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell put together a handy condensed “Book of Hours” that incorporates the words of Flannery O’Connor and the themes of her writings. Each day focuses on a theme and includes scriptural meditations to aid in prayer. The author has skillfully selected passages from O’Connor’s writings for each day as a meditation and a point of connection with O’Connor. O’Donnell has also written daily prayers of her own that focus our minds on what is important in our daily lives and how thankful we should be.
I “read” this book once and have prayed it for the past two weeks. It has become a good addition to my prayer life. O’Donnell has given us a prayerbook that is unique in its style, but meaningful in its content. Not only has it reminded me of O’Connor’s brilliance as a writer, but it has also reminded me of how strong and interconnected we are as the body of Christ. To be praying with Flannery O’Connor in 2012—48 years after her death—is a reminder of the beauty of praying with the communion of saints. I recommend this book for anyone looking to inspire their prayer life or find new ways to pray.