Mr Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again but this time he knew that there were no words in the world that could name it. He understood that it grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children. He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him. He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. He had never thought him self a great sinner before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when he had denied poor Nelson. He saw that no Sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.
Flannery O’Connor, The Artificial Nigger
This, the last paragraph but one in Flannery O’Connor’s strange, disorienting story, comes close to describing what Alan Jones, in Soul Making, describes as the gift of tears, and which I understand to be the root of true intercessory prayer. It is the realisation of our complete identification with our sister and brother creatures, no matter who they may be.
Quoting part of this passage from O’Connor’s story, Jones says, “Flannery O’Connor, in story form, describes the double action of the gift of tears. I am able to see in such a way that I not only judge myself with the judgement of God, but I am given the grace to love myself with the love of God. My tears, then, are the tears of joy as well as of sorrow.”
But there is more than this. As Mr Head sees, there is no sin too monstrous for us to claim as our own. All the we are grows from the same root in Adam, and his and Eve’s sin is our own, and all the sins that follow, ever. For this reason we cry, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”; and for this reason our cry is valid for all that lives, and we are ourselves no more than one of the little watercourses by which Christ’s mercy comes to comfort a creation lost in uncountable pain (see Romans 8.19ff).