Inspiration and revelation: God’s breath

My Vocation is Love / By Lindsey Weishar

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with some friends for a group reading of a Flannery O’Connor short story I hadn’t encountered before, “Parker’s Back.” Though I admire that O’Connor was able to write stories that speak to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, I have had to learn how grace operates in her stories before I could really enter into them. Often her hardened characters must experience a violence of some sort before their souls can open to grace.

“Parker’s Back” is the story of a man who, through a dramatic accident which leads to a tractor, tree, and his shoes burning up, becomes determined to get a tattoo on the only available space left on his body — his back. The story illustrates two intertwined elements of our faith — inspiration and revelation.

How has our Lord’s inspiration and revelation been made manifest in your own life? May we be ever attentive to the way God breathes in and through us, and how he reveals himself personally to us in our day.

Inspiration and revelation are linked in that they both point toward an action of God within the life of man.

In an article entitled “Inspiration of the Bible,” New Advent notes that inspiration is “a transitory participation of the Divine power” and it is “personal, that is, given directly to the sacred writer (in the case of biblical inspiration) to enlighten, stimulate, and purify his faculties.”

It comes from the Latin inspirare, which the Online Etymology Dictionary says means to “blow into, breathe upon.”

I immediately think of John 20:22, where Jesus tells his disciples he is sending them forth: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

For Flannery O’Connor’s Parker, inspiration begins as a way to meet a hunger — to ease his dissatisfaction with life and the desire to please his Protestant wife (Parker has no religion). As O’Connor puts it, “A dim half-formed inspiration began to work in his mind. He visualized having a tattoo put there that Sarah Ruth would not be able to resist — a religious subject.”


While inspiration begins his process of seeking, it is revelation that moves Parker to act. Pope Paul VI in Dei Verbum says this about revelation:

“In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Ephesians 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature . . . By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation.”

Defined by the Online Etymology Dictionary as coming from revelare, meaning “unveil, uncover, lay bare,” revelation strikes Parker at full force when he has his accident. The resulting conflagration — reminiscent of the burning bush in which Moses encounters the presence of God — serves as a moment in which Parker seems to operate in a spirit not wholly his own. He must get up, leave everything, and go to the tattoo parlor. As O’Connor puts it, “He only knew that there had been a great change in his life, a leap forward into a worse unknown, and that there was nothing he could do about it. It was for all intents accomplished.”

At the tattoo parlor, he declares he must get God himself inked on his back. And what he ends up choosing is a Byzantine icon called “Christ Pantocrator,” or Christ the Almighty. It is the eyes of this icon that draw Parker, and, the tattooist, referred to as “the artist” throughout the encounter, writes the icon into Parker’s back.


The end of the story presents revelation upon revelation — one of which is Parker unveiling for his wife the tattoo. She, believing this tattoo to be idolatrous, hits his back with a broom until welts appear on the face of Christ. And here, as in so many parts of this story, is a moment where the dance between inspiration and revelation opens new vistas of understanding: Parker, the unbeliever, shares in the sufferings of Christ whose image he not only bears within him by nature of his humanity but also on his flesh.

“The main concern of the fiction writer,” Flannery O’Connor says, “is with mystery as it is incarnated in human life.” Good fiction has a way of making us think more deeply about reality.

So, dear reader, I turn the themes of “Parker’s Back” to you: How has our Lord’s inspiration and revelation been made manifest in your own life? May we be ever attentive to the way God breathes in and through us, and how he reveals himself personally to us in our day.


LINDSEY WEISHAR is a poet, freelance writer, and native of Champaign who has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is executive assistant to the president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. Write to her at


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