I bought this book a couple years ago when its cover and title drew me in at a bookstore. (Yes, people still learn about new books and buy them from bookstores.) Then last month I was delighted to have the privilege of meeting the book’s author, Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, when we were at the same writing workshop at Collegeville Institute. O'Donnell is a professor at Fordham University and has a host of books, poetry and prose, to her credit. O’Donnell radiated joy about her work and it struck me as so fitting that she had written a book with a focus on joy.
The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O’Connor (Paraclete Press, 2012) is a book of hours that leads the reader through morning prayer and evening prayer (prime and compline, respectively) on a Monday through Saturday schedule. Each day focuses on a theological theme, but each theme circles back to joy: The Christian Comedy, The False Self & True Self, Blindess & Vision, Limitation & Grace, The Mystery of the Incarnation, Facing the Dragon, and Revelations & Resurrections. This is not theology according to Flannery O’Connor, but rather O’Donnell has identified certain theological themes that appear in O’Connor's work and that her work can help us understand better.
Today, for example, Tuesday, the theme is Blindness & Vision, and the morning prayer begins with a reading from the Gospel of Mark, the story of the blind man at the pool at Bethsaida, then a short prayer followed by a reading from the Psalms, followed by a reading from Acts when Paul was blinded and then healed. The readings are followed by an invitation to Lectio Divina and various prayers, including a space for intercession. The last entry is a short discussion of how the theme of blindness and vision plays out in O’Connor’s story “Good Country People.”
The idea for this book was sparked when O'Donnell learned of O’Connor’s daily habit of saying "The Prayer of St. Raphael," which O’Donnell includes in each day’s readings. It is a prayer with its eye on joy. For O’Connor the main point of the prayer was that we be guided “to the province of joy so that we may not be ignorant of the concerns of our true country.”
O’Donnell writes in the introduction:
"Through prayer and through her writing, which served as a kind of prayer for O’Connor, she could place herself on the threshold of that province using the power of word and imagination. Prayer, for O’Connor, was a means of moving from the limited place in which she found herself toward the limitless space of joy, a location that can be occupied in the here and now, as well as looked forward to in eternity. Indeed, prayer becomes both means and end for all of us, an act that propels us toward the prospect of eternity and an experience of the eternal achieved, paradoxically, within the limits of time and physical space. Such prayer provides the pray-er with a foretaste of eternity."
O’Donnell is currently working on a biography of Flannery O'Connor for Liturgical Press's "People of God" series.
[Photo: The book itself.]