Of Temples and Chickens

I plan to spend a decent amount of time in the coming weeks exploring concepts of health, the body, perceptions of morality and spirituality, and why it seems so many health behaviors are interpreted as having moral relevance.  One of my jumping off places will be re-reading Flannery O’Connor’s short story, A Temple of the Holy Ghost.

In the process of hunkering down, I found this marvelous story about Ms. O’Connor as a child:

O’Connor described herself as a “pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you complex.”  When O’Connor was six, she taught a chicken to walk backwards, and this led to her first experience of being a celebrity. The Pathé News people filmed “Little Mary O’Connor” with her trained chicken, and showed the film around the country. She said, “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathe News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

I am now entirely distracted from my original purpose, and ready to read and re-read everything this woman ever wrote!  I am missing The South today, and thinking of the way it has birthed and continues to nurture great writers — human beings with a sense of place and a connection to either the grotesque or realism, depending on your point of view.  As O’Connor said, “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

I didn’t have the life experience to grasp Flannery O 20 years ago.  I think I’m ready.

She could hear the freak saying, “God made me thisaway and I don’t dispute it,” and the people saying,
“Amen. Amen.”
“God done this to me and I praise Him.”
“Amen. Amen.”
“He could strike you thisaway.”
“Amen. Amen.”
“But He has not.”
“Amen.”
“Raise yourself up. A temple of the Holy Ghost. You! You are God’s temple, don’t you know? Don’t you know? God’s Spirit has a dwelling in you, don’t you know?”
“Amen. Amen.”
“If anybody desecrates the temple of God, God will bring him to ruin and if you laugh, He may strike you thisaway. A temple of God is a holy thing. Amen. Amen.”
“I am a temple of the Holy Ghost.”
“Amen.”

— from A Temple of the Holy Ghost by Flannery O’Connor

Image credit: Amazon (this was the cover on my college textbook); An enormous shout-out to Miscellaneous Accumulation for finding and posting the Pathe News clip of O’Connor and her chicken!

4 thoughts on “Of Temples and Chickens

  1. I have read quite a few novels, short stories, and essays in my time, and above all else “southern fiction” is my favorite genre. I definitely support your endeavor to read more from Ms. O’Connor. While this particular story isn’t my favorite of hers, it certainly strikes a chord. I look forward to reading your blog these next few weeks as you launch into a new year of questions, opinions, ponderings, and wanderings.

  2. This inspires me to re-read these stories I haven’t thought of in nearly 20 yrs … yet as I go to find the bk on my shelves – with that very cover – it seems to be gone. Oh dear! My excitement is now followed by horror. Grotesque indeed!

  3. Book found (along with my copy of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, which I didn’t even realize was missing) – on loan, nearly finished and much appreciated. Crisis averted.

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