Again, O'Connor surprises with her sober grasp of the essential struggles of the spiritual life. She knows that mediocrity can only have two outcomes: Despair and Presumption. More important, she understands that it is Grace alone that can help one escape it. She recognizes the need for fear of God, but acknowledges that to remain there only breeds a stifling anxiety. Only by giving one's heart completely to God in love can truly bring freedom and joy to one's life.
Mediocrity is a hard word to apply to oneself; yet I see myself so equal with it that it is impossible not to throw it at myself—realizing even as I do that I will be old and beaten before I accept it. I think to accept it would be to accept Despair. There must be some way for the naturally mediocre to escape it. The way must be Grace. There must be a way to escape it even when you know you are even below it. Perhaps knowing you are below it is a way to begin. I say I am equal with it; but I am below it. I will always be staggering between Despair and Presumption, facing first one and then the other, deciding which makes me look the best, which fits most comfortably, most conveniently. I’ll never take a large chunk of anything. I’ll nibble nervously here and there. Fear of God is right; but, God, it is not this nervousness. It is something huge, great, magnanimous. It must be a joy. Every virtue must be vigorous. Virtue must be the only vigorous thing in our lives. Sin is large and stale. You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited. But perhaps that is too literary a statement—this mustn’t get insincere.
How can I live—how shall I live. Obviously the only way to live right is to give up everything. But I have no vocation and maybe that is wrong anyway. But how to eliminate this picky fish bone kind of way I do things—I want so to love God all the way.
Excerpt From: Flannery O’Connor. “A Prayer Journal.”