Flannery’s Birthday and the Annunciation
I would be remiss if I did not blog on Flannery O’Connor’s birthday.
I have always liked the fact that March 25th is also the Feast of the Annunciation – the day that God became “incarnate of the Virgin Mary,” according to the Creed.
It seems very fitting that Mary Flannery (yep, Mary is her first name, Flannery her second and later her published name) should have been born on this feast day. The Incarnation seems to be the central concern of all of her works. She says:
The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.
Well, in some sense, that location is the Virgin Mary. That’s where “time and place and eternity” met for the first time.
In Flannery’s fiction, that location is usually a bizarrely violent moment of grace: like the murder of the grandmother and her whole family, the drowning / baptism of the little boy, the woman gored in the heart by a runaway bull… the list goes on.
Some pious Catholics are scandalized by Flannery’s writing, and they often cite the absurdity and violence in her works as their reasons.
Maybe they’re forgetting that, in the original Incarnation, when God first entered temporality, there were all sorts of violence afoot. Herod’s slaughter of hundreds of little baby boys comes to mind.
And even Simeon’s prophecy to Mary– as he held her beloved child in his arms — is predominantly concerned with violence: “A sword will piece your own soul too” (Lk 2:25).
And I don’t think we need to cite the crucifixion.
Flannery’s response is that the earthly response to grace is usually a violent one, and that “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”
As beautiful as the Feast of the Annunciation is, it’s important to remember Who was being Announced. The Incarnation of God was something wholly unexpected and ridiculous. And when people finally began to understand what He was saying, they killed Him, because in a way it was the typical human response to divine grace.
Flannery O’Connor shows the Incarnation over and over in her stories.
And like Mary brought grace into the world, Flannery brings grace into her fiction.
(She would probably scoff at that last sentence and censure me for impiety and exaggeration.)