When I converted to Catholicism 15 years ago, a family friend mailed me a copy of The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor with a note that read, “Welcome to the family.” The friend, knowing I loved literature, wanted to connect me with one of the most renown Catholic writers to date.
I picked up the collection a few times throughout the years, but recently I decided to read the stories in earnest. What struck me most in reading these wincingly realistic short stories were the moments of violence. Most of the stories have a shockingly violent moment that seems to come out of nowhere: a slap, a fire, a murder, and in a moment of dark comedy, the theft of an arrogant atheist’s wooden leg.
Flannery O’Connor said she used violence as a way “of returning [her] characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.”
I’ve seen this in real life too. I’ve seen car accidents and a death of a loved one or a drug overdose that shocked a person to reality—to God. Sometimes I’ve heard this referred to as “rock bottom,” the very lowest point we can get. When a person is at rock bottom, one is humbled. He or she finds him- or herself in a place where all one can do is depend on the grace of God.
I think about this in terms of my own life. There have been shocking moments I wasn’t expecting. These moments left me humbled, knowing I could not do it on my own. I could only depend on God. And there he was, just waiting to pour his grace upon me.
I like how Flannery O’Connor says she returned her characters to reality. Reality, our true existence, isn’t in the violent moments; it is that moment after, when we are humbled. True reality is found in grace. Reality is found in God.
O’Connor said sometimes our “heads are so hard that almost nothing else [other than violence] will do the work” of bringing us back to reality. Sitting back from a comfortable distance from those violent moments in my life and in those of my friends, I nearly laugh at her observation. Yep, I was so hardheaded, it took a very dramatic moment to humble me to see the grace that was waiting for me.
St. Paul, who knew something about dramatic moments when God’s grace shines through, reminds Christians that grace is waiting for us. Paul shares the powerful words of Christ: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) In our humility, in our “rock bottom,” Christ’s grace is sufficient.
Let us rest in that grace.