I was so excited to read this article from the New York Times about Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal. However, as a Christian, it is always interesting to see how a non-Christian interprets a believer’s motives and inspiration. Who can understand Dante’s somewhat disgusting prayer, “Enter into my breast; within me breathe / the very power you made manifest / when you drew Marsyas out from his limbs’ sheath.” (Paradiso I.19 Mandelbaum) In other words he’s begging Apollo to flay him alive so that he will be no more himself but completely at the power of divine inspiration. It is as profound to the Christian and as disgusting to the non-Christian as all of the “bloody Jesus songs.”
Inspiration – the word itself means an intake of breath. Whose breath? This is the incomprehensible question. If breath is only oxygen from the meaningless nowhere then it is merely an absurd formality to invoke the muses or any other divine agent. Here is what Marilynne Robinson makes of it in the above referenced article:
“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.”
When one considers that none of us are here by our choice and that we are entirely made up of atoms that we did not assemble ourselves and have heard our whole lives long words and thoughts that we did not invent it seems a bit absurd to me to be so confused at how one could attribute a story to an exterior being. As the Genesis narrative tell us, all breath, even a sneeze, is the result of the original Divine inspiration.
(The above print is my own, Pentecost gelatin monoprint)