W is for Wound.

Flannery O’Connor said, “Grace must wound before it can heal.”

I scribbled those words in my notes during one Flannery O talk given by Dr. Ralph Wood at Laity Lodge.

If I can grasp that concept, I think I’ll be able to understand her writing more.

Jonathan Rogers looked at me during one session and said, “You don’t have to like Flannery O’Connor.”

I know. But I want to.

I really do.

I want to wrap my mind around this peacock-loving, slant-writing, perfect-word-choosing writer.

I want to be able to read one her stories where someone is gored by a bull or where a grandfather kills his granddaughter, I want to  read one of those stories that leaves me feeling like I’ve been sucker-punched, and be able to say, “Ah, I’ve been wounded so that I can experience the grace of this story.”

Flannery O’Connor  said, “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.”

Yes, that’s it, Flannery. That’s me.

I see the hardness and hopelessness and brutality, and I miss the grace.

I said something to Jonathan about Judgement Day, the story that did me in on Flannery O. It’s the story of an old man from Georgia brought by his daughter to live with her in New York City. He wants to go home but dies in a horrible death in New York.

“I’m stuck with this image of a man with his head stuffed in the spokes of the railing. It’s an awful image,” I told him.

“Yes,” JR agreed, “but he got to go home.”

In the end the daughter brought her father’s body back to Georgia.

Was she the one wounded?

Was she the one who experienced grace?

See what I mean about not understanding Flannery?

And yet if grace were easy to understand, somehow it would seem cheaper.

So wound me, grace, so I can heal, and be more aware of the amazing power You hold.

Help me learn to extend that same grace, then, to others.

The Good Guide

G is for Flannery O’Connor’s story that wasn’t called “The Good Guide.”

That’s not a typo.

She wrote a story called “The Artificial N——” — I can’t even bring myself to type the word — and her editor pleaded with her to change the title to “The Good Guide.”  FO stood up for her title, saying it was the essence of the story.

At Laity Lodge, this story was the topic of Dr. Ralph Wood’s final talk for the retreat. It is a story of pride, betrayal, and grace.

As soon as Dr. Wood introduced the story, as soon as he said the word, as soon as he dropped that bomb, every heart turned toward the one man of color in our midst.

Every heart turned that way, I’m sure, though every eye politely stared straight ahead or focused on some speck on the floor.

He might as well have called a Jew to the front and offered to tattoo a number on his or her arm.

We are stung by certain words, by the sheer profanity of them, as we should be.

At the beginning of the retreat we were challenged to write two words on blocks of wood. One was to be the word that represents that thing that holds us back from our art. The other was to be a word that we would like to see eliminated from the English language.

I immediately knew my two words. I scrawled the first one onto a block, but couldn’t bring myself to write the second because, in my mind, it is such an awful word that it makes me want to throw up just to look at it.

I took a deep breath and finally scribbled it onto the block. Quickly, I laid the block face down on the sofa. I really didn’t want to see it.

Words can be such powerful things, can’t they?

Writing it down felt like I was empowering it, the last thing I ever wanted to do.

All those blocks were burned, though, in a vortex of fire on the last night.

The blocks were stacked on a potter’s wheel, doused with lighter fluid, and lit with the wheel spinning.

Vortex of Fire (photograph by Kristen Kopp)

Vortex of Fire (photograph by Kristen Kopp)

I wish it were so easy to rid our country of hate.