Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite authors and perhaps one of the most erudite people in the U.S., has written some reflections on Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal. Read about it HERE.
It is the religious sensibility reflected in this journal that makes it as eloquent on the subject of creativity as it is on the subject of prayer. O’Connor’s awareness of her gifts gives her a special kind of interest in them. Having concluded one early entry by asking the Lord to help her “with this life that seems so treacherous, so disappointing,” she begins the next entry: “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.”
Every writer wonders where fictional ideas come from. The best of them often appear very abruptly after a period of imaginative drought. And, mysteriously, they really are good ideas, much superior to the contrivances of conscious invention. Such experiences are by no means exclusive to writers with religious worldviews. But believing them to be literal gifts grants them an objective existence they seem actually to deserve. This entails problems, of course. Fiction rarely shows a divine imprimatur, as its mortal creators are well aware. I would be curious to know what story or part of a story by O’Connor should be attributed to the Lord. It can seem self-aggrandizing or simply bizarre to ascribe any thought or work to a seemingly external source, named or unnamed. Nevertheless, Hesiod, Pindar and any number of poets and prophets before and after them have declared indebtedness of this kind. If they, and O’Connor, were naïve, sophistication has made language poorer. There is no way now to describe an experience many a writer can attest to, having been surprised by it, and having enjoyed it as a particular pleasure and reward of the art. Religion is by its nature more accommodating to the unaccountable than rationalism ever can be.
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