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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Losing - or Keeping - Your Faith
From a Letter to a Student
Flannery O'Connor
Reprinted from

Burdened by a crippling disease but armed with a razor-sharp mind and unshakeable convictions, writer Flannery O'Connor left a large and impressive body of spiritual writings when she died at 39.

Though not as widely known as her gothic novels and short stories, these pieces are more readily accessible, and (probably because so many are letters) they speak with a highly personal, immediate voice. In this one, written to her good friend Alfred Corn, she decries what she once called a "tired cliche": the idea that education in general, and collegiate / university life in particular, must inevitably lead to a shipwrecked faith.

I think the experience of losing your faith, or of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith; or at least it can belong to faith if faith is still valuable to you, and it must be or you would not have written me about this.

I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.

A friend once wrote to the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he could believe.  He must have expected a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, “give alms.” Perhaps he was trying to say that God is to be experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for the divine image in human beings). Don’t get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that you fail to look for God in this way.

Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge… and that absence doesn’t bother me because I have got, over the years, a sense of the immense sweep of creation, of the evolutionary process in everything, of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be to be the God of heaven and earth. You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories.

If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for time devoted to its cultivation…Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there.