of Flannery O’Connor and calling, a letter to preston

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Preston and I write letters back and forth. We share about mystery, wonder about faith and the long walk of obedience, tell stories about Gossip Girl and God’s grace. We would love for you to join us in the comments. You can read his last letter to me here.

Dear Preston,

You would understand how the sight of the white farmhouse ripped the air from my lungs in a quick, sharp breath. There it was: the deep front porch with white rocking chairs, the red tin roof, a peacock peering from behind a wall of chicken wire. In front of me the grass, browned with Georgia summer, spilled down towards a pond. I thought of the Holy Spirit that descended like an icicle. I wandered towards the back, found the barn (the hayloft, you know?), and saw spread out before me the map of her wild, violent love of the world and her commitment to it.

Flannery O’Connor lived here, I almost giggled as I watched my feet step onto the same floorboards, felt the air moving gently across the porch. This is where she wrote “Good Country People” and “The Enduring Chill” and “The Comforts of Home.” It was better than strolling through a movie set or seeing Forrest Gump’s bench in a square in Savannah. I saw the typewriter, imagined how she sat there, day after day, forcing herself to write even when she didn’t want to. I imagined her bickering with her mother and feeding her peacocks. I imagined her watching the world. And I closed my eyes and ran down to the pond with my friends. And God said, “Here you are. I send you.”

I don’t think he’s going to send me to Andalusia to write short stories of violent grace. I don’t think he necessarily wants me to write stories at all. But I know he sends me to echo back the unselfconscious love of learning. I know he sends me to commit myself to higher education, to making the space where students meet Flannery O’Connor and Heidegger and Wollstonecraft. He brings me to Andalusia to send me back filled with hours of discussing Parker’s back and whether or not Mrs Turpin really understands the revelation. He sends me back home full of awe and shameless love of stories and this world.

You wrote to me saying that cameras are shields, that you don’t want to give it all up and follow Him. And I almost never want to. It’s only when He catches me in those moments of unselfconscious, shameless love – when I’m caught up in what I’m doing and I’ve forgotten to be worried if someone is looking, if anyone else is impressed, if my comment was the most insightful or witty – in those moments Jesus whispers in my ear that I’m being sent out to do His will, not mine. In those moments, Jesus pushes me out towards the cliff and says, “I’m sending you across. Trust me and go.”

And standing in the porch at Andalusia, caught in a moment of shameless awe and wonder, He pushed. I wonder if you have those moments, too – the ones where you forget yourself, and realize only hours later that you are still you? The ones where it really is just about the discussion, or the story, or the long walk along the waterfront or the argument about public policy or climbing the mountain? Where does God catch you lingering in awe and push you?

Love, and grace for the calling,

hilary

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