The Prayers of a Sharp Cheddar

posted in: Culture, Faith | 0

“What I am asking for is really very ridiculous. Oh Lord, I am saying, at present I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately. But then God can do that—make mystics out of cheeses.” Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, September 25, 1947.

One of the greatest literary minds of all time called herself a cheese. Throughout her journal, the devoutly Catholic O’Connor struggled with questions of faith, writing, her place, and her prayer life. As I read her journal, I was constantly struck by her alternating lack of confidence in her ability and her overwhelming confidence God was going to use her gifts for his glory. Somehow.

But she was a cheese and if she is a cheese, so am I. I might be less than a cheese. I might be a processed cheese food, aerosol can-based, with smoky bacon flavor.

There’s a longing to escape from the mundane and banal of everyday life, but what better place to meet your savior? God turns poverty of spirit into something beautiful and eternal. It’s his business to redeem and it’s a free gift through his son. The lame walk, the tongue-tied talk, a child shall lead them, a fishermen catches men—greatness is never the starting point. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Brought low like a Velveeta block or old sippy cup milk curd, cheese is basic.


While Flannery O’Connor, the Cheese, wrote about her wish to be a mystic, I have a different outlook. My cheesehood is more concerned with daily living. I pray for wisdom and patience, faith when doubts creep, strength when I’m weak. Anything mystic that happens is a complete surprise, like gold flakes sprinkled into Stilton but served on a saltine.

O’Connor eventually wrote some of the starkest, smartest, thunderously prophetic and convicting novels and short stories of the 20th century. When you read her prayer journal knowing what she would accomplish in coming years, it’s a revelation—until you come to the very next day and the last entry she wrote:

My thoughts are so far away from God. He might as well not have made me. And the feeling I egg up writing here lasts approximately a half hour and seems a sham. I don’t want any of this artificial superficial feeling stimulated by the choir. Today I have proved myself a glutton—for Scotch oatmeal cookie and erotic thought. There is nothing left to say of me. Flannery O’Connor,  A Prayer Journal, September 26, 1947.

And then, suddenly, on the day she closed this particular journal forever, I see myself. It’s not that I wish I was never made but I can sink easily into oblivious mode, only praying over a meal or a good parking space. My lofty, in the zone spiritual reveries last about as long as hers and then someone needs to be wiped. I succumb to various gluttonies and figure that’s it. I blew it again. I know what happened to her, however. I have no idea what’s in store for me, so the biggest thing I can be is basic: a cheese in my poverty as I wait on Him.


I recommend Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal, published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 2013. It’s a short, fast read that includes the full text of her journal transcribed and a full version of her photocopied handwriting. I don’t recommend it because she’s such a spiritual sage (although some of her journaling is lovely), but as a glimpse into who she was in her fledgling writing days.


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