Flannery O’Connor, has taken her seat among the greats of literary fiction. In her writing, she consistently challenged an image of grace that is a gentle invitation to change. The prominent characters who are confronted by grace through out the pages of her fiction are often referred to as freaks, the grotesque, and lonely broken twisted people. These characters become, for O’Connor, icons of people who run from their brokenness and pain. They run because they are terrified of two things; grace and change. O’Connor was well acquainted with the grotesque nature of life. Flannery suffered with lupus her whole life before she died at the age of 33. Her suffering was her teacher, and her suffering was the place where grace was manifested. O’Connor believed her suffering had meaning and it led her to this conclusion; “sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.”
Life is full of the grotesque. Suffering, death, addiction, divorce, abuse, loneliness, and disease are all distortions of God’s creation. Our brokenness confronts us, catches us off guard, and often overwhelms us, but, as O’Connor came to learn, as we reel from the pain, God’s grace is revealed.
In my present experience I know this to be true. God has been patiently waiting, for years, for me to quit running from change and grace. At first, it was a slow walk past grace to change. I approached grace and change as one who pretends to not see a familiar face passing on the sidewalk because they don’t wish to be bothered. But over time my walk from grace became more of a run. I ran from the pain, I created familiar paths around suffering, and then I numbed my pain with everything but God. Unknown to me, my life was slowly being transformed into one that could only be categorized as grotesque. I became unrecognizable to those who knew me best. I was unrecognizable to myself. Yet, thankfully, by the grace of God, I was allowed to see myself for what I had become. When I looked into the mirror, I had become one of O’Connors characters. I looked into the mirror but a lonely broken twisted person looked back at me.
This is no gentle grace, this is a painful grace. This grace was an assault on the person I had become. As one author puts it; “God’s grace comes sometimes like a kick in the teeth, leaving us broken, wholly unable any longer to deny our need.” In that moment, the moment that I fully embraced the distorted person looking back at me, grace exploded over me. I saw what I had become, I saw what others saw, and I realized something very important; those who loved me were still there. Those who loved me and the twisted up person I had become, in that moment, embodied God’s Grace.