Book Club: The Temple of the Holy Ghost

January 24, 2012


 Following Fr. Damian Ference’s fascinating post on Flannery O’Connor, we, the Word on Fire Blog moderators, are offering a forum wherein you the reader, are drawn into the experience, reflection and application of the literary work of this phenomenal Catholic writer.
May we introduce to you (drumroll, please) the Word on Fire Book Club.
Roughly once a month, our own Ellyn von Huben will recommend an essential literary work of one of the Tradition’s “greats.” After the book selection is offered, Ellyn will present questions for discussion regarding the literary content.  We will then open a specific forum thread on the Word on Fire Community page for your open discussion. Feel free to respond as much or as little as you like.

We intend to open the vaults and encourage a comprehensive understanding of a variety of Catholic works and artistry, and we hope you will join us.  

Without further ado, Ellyn introduces this month’s selection, O’Connor’s “A Temple of the Holy Ghost.”
“So, which is your favorite?”   I attended the Flannery O’Connor Conference at Loyola University in Chicago last October. There were no uncomfortable silent moments with people I had just met. With everyone, the fall back conversation starter was, “So, which is your favorite of Flannery’s work?” I met a variety of people whose response was the same as mine: different favorites at different times. One short story is consistently in my top five: “A Temple of the Holy Ghost.

At the center of the story is an intellectually and spiritually precocious twelve year-old girl– referred to only as “the child.” I have read various scholarly analyses which draw a corollary between “the child” and the author, and to use the words of the freak show hermaphrodite, “I don’t dispute hit.” But I must admit that I felt an instant kinship with the child. Not just that this sassy, petulant, curious child reminded me of the twelve year-old me, but also me – now. Nevertheless, this is a story that I recommend to all, not just to sassy, petulant fifty-some things who wish to read stories through a self-referential lens.
Many of us are familiar with Flannery O’Connor’s fascination with freaks (“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose) and this story is a good example. Grounded in the reality of our incarnational faith, it is a story of accepting physical realities and limitations; accepting that we all are Temples of the Holy Ghost.   The centrality of the Eucharist in our faith is also brilliantly woven in as profundity filtered through the mind of a spunky tween who is literally, in the end, embraced and marked by the love of Christ.
It is also a very short story told with great artistry, lending itself to frequent re-reading and therefore, in my mind, to a perpetual question of:  who is really the freak here? I would invite anyone who has not yet read “A Temple of the Holy Ghost (included in Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories) to invest some well-spent minutes in reading it. And those who have read it once or ten times, to read it again.
*UPDATE: Questions for reflection will be posted on Wednesday, February 1, to give participants time to accquire the book and begin reading before discussion begins. The questions will be posted in the Word on Fire Community Forum. *