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Coffee Conversation for Three

Short Reflections on Chronic Disease and the Atheism of God . . .

Oliver Sacks and Flannery O’Connor. Imagine having a coffee house discussion with those two individuals . . . writer to writer, doctor to patient, and atheist to theist.

Of course, though the quotes are real, the following conversation never happened. Oliver Sacks was finishing medical school at the time of Flannery O’Connor’s death. However, they are two of my favorite writers who have assisted me as I think my way through the increasingly ascetic world of Parkinson’s. 

“For here is a man who, in some sense, is desperate, in a frenzy. The world keeps disappearing, losing meaning, vanishing – and he must seek meaning, make meaning, in a desperate way, continually inventing, throwing bridges of meaning over abysses of meaninglessness, the chaos that yawns continually beneath him.”  — Oliver Sacks

“Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place… Nothing outside you can give you any place… In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.”  — Flannery O’Connor

“The miracle is that, in most cases, he succeeds – for the powers of survival, of the will to survive, and to survive as a unique inalienable individual, are absolutely, the strongest in our being: stronger than any impulses, stronger than disease.”  — Oliver Sacks

“In a sense sickness is a place more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow.”  — Flannery O’Connor

“In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.”  ― Oliver Sacks

I am a Catholic not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist, but like someone else would be an atheist.” – Flannery O’Connor

“As I write, in New York in mid-December, the city is full of Christmas trees and menorahs. I would be inclined to say, as an old Jewish atheist, that these things mean nothing to me, but Hannukah songs are evoked in my mind whenever an image of a menorah impinges on my retina, even when I am not consciously aware of it.” – Oliver Sacks

“No one can be an atheist who does not know all things. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer & he has his reasons.” – Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor’s assertion that only God is an atheist comes from a prayer journal that she kept for a short time while participating in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She wrote out her prayers because as she once said, “I write to discover what I know.” In her prayers, she frequently asked God to grant her the ability and the circumstances to write well. She wrote the journal before she was diagnosed with Lupus, a disease that forced her into isolation at her mother’s Georgia farm. While exiled, she wrote two novels, thirty-two short stories, and raised an ostentation of peacocks before dying at age 39. Either she had a premonition or God answered her prayer or maybe both? We will explore further.

Coming next . . . The Reluctant Ascetic

Please check out this posting on Substack at The Morning Julep.