Ellyn von Huben introduces Flannery 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.