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Flannery O'Connor: I am Not A Mystic
Embracing the vital lesson of recognizing my imperfections
Reading Flannery O'Connor's1 short letter from August 2, 1955, I was struck by her humility in addressing a reader's elevated view of her spirituality. Her open admission of struggles with common sins like pride and sloth deeply resonated with me. I’m reminded of St Isaac of Syria’s wisdom: “Do not transmit to others as your own that rule of life to which you have not yet attained lest you be ashamed of your soul, and from the comparison with your way of life your lie will be revealed. But even if you speak on what is fitting, speak as a pupil and not authoritatively, by first humbling yourself and showing that you are less than [your listener]. Indeed you will give to your listeners an example of humility; moreover, the hearing of your words will stimulate them in the race toward works and you will be honored in their eyes.” The more I journey along the Threefold Way, the more I’m noticing how important it is to acknowledge my own imperfections (As a dad of three young children, there are plenty of opportunities). O'Connor's vulnerability in this tiny little letter challenges me to embrace a more authentic, humble approach in my own walk with God.
August 2, 1955
…I am not a mystic and I do not lead a holy life.
Not that I can claim any interesting or pleasurable sins (my sense of the devil is strong) but I know all about the garden variety, pride, gluttony, envy and sloth, and what is more to the point, my virtues are as timid as my vices.
I think sin occasionally brings one closer to God, but not habitual sin and not this petty kind that blocks every small good.
A working knowledge of the devil can be very well had from resisting him.2
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Flannery O'Connor (1925–1964) was an American writer and essayist known for her Southern Gothic style of writing and her strong Catholic faith. Her works often explore themes of morality and religion, as well as darkly comic set pieces. Her most famous works include the novels Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960) and the short story collections A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). O'Connor received the National Book Award for Fiction for her collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories in 1972, posthumously. She was also a writer-in-residence at The University of Iowa and a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. O'Connor is recognized as one of the great American authors of the 20th century.
O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.