Saturday, February 26, 2005

Vertical Calling, Horizontal Purpose

I was in good company – the writers at the table were Christians and our discussion was evidence of the fact. We were trying to decide what a panel of writers would discuss at the end of a one-day workshop. Someone suggested the question, "Are you a Christian Writer or a Christian who writes?" As he made the suggestion, Ron added, "Maybe that one has been done too much. Maybe we should come up with something else."

The discussion that ensued helped us realize this was a topic that would always spark worthwhile comments.
One of the instructors at the table made a statement that I feel encapsulated the core of the discussion. She said she believed her calling was to a relationship with God. Her purpose was to fulfill that calling, by writing.
It’s a vertical calling, a horizontal purpose. We are all to follow Jesus. He is the Prime Mentor, His example one of pure integrity and singleness of purpose. He lived to do His Father’s will. His every breath came from and went to His Father.

As our Prime Mentor, Jesus shows us not only how to live, but how to write. His speech was always full of grace. When He was angry, He did not sin. When He wanted to teach, He took the time and effort necessary. When He told stories, He made them come alive. He knew His audience and used what was familiar to them. Nothing He said was empty. Jesus used no superfluous words. All of them pointed to His Father.

It has taken me many years to sort through the question we tossed out at that workshop. Am I a Christian writer or a Christian who writes? I have concluded that if I am a Christian, in relationship with Jesus, I will write, fulfilling my purpose in this time and place. It is the way and means to be in relationship with Him, personally and corporately. It is the method He has given me to help others to grow in that relationship. Vertical calling. Horizontal Purpose.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Whining in Alberta

You speak with thunder and lightning
Your voice shakes the mountains
And all I can offer is this fragile breath
And with each one I'll praise You - Todd Agnew

"All I can offer is this fragile breath"

I'm feeling like my breath is pretty fragile these days - in fact, it seems downright wimpy.
I've just been reading over some of my WIP and it's depressing. I feel as though I should give up. But I know I won't. I'll go on putting sentences and paragraphs on a page, rewriting and then rewriting again. Who ever said it was supposed to be easy? I'm trying to talk myself into something here, like quit whining and get back to work. But I don't want to read those paragraphs over again. I want to chuck the whole thing and start over. Maybe that's what I'll do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Field of Words

There is an old hymn called O Sacred Head Now Wounded, the fourth verse of which reads - “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?”
What language shall I borrow? I think the author of those words was overwhelmed with the task of communicating something so astounding and so beautiful, he had no words for it, no words that could come close to expressing what was in his heart. There are times when we, as writers, have no words, when things overwhelm, either for good or bad, and we cannot write them.

In his autobiography, Eli Weisel tells of meeting with the French writer, Jean Paul Mauriac. Weisel becomes enraged as Mauriac keeps speaking about Jesus. He explodes with fury, telling him that not far from where they were sitting at that moment, thousands of Jews suffered unspeakable things, and yet, Weisel says, “We never speak about them. Can you understand that? We never speak about them!” Mauriac, moved to tears, encouraged the young Jewish journalist to find the words to tell that story. The result was the Nobel Prize winning book, Night.

We must consider that those very things we find unspeakable may be the “field” God has given us. As Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:13, is sure of the field “God has assigned to us,” we must move boldly into the fields of words He has for us. The words are there, if we but search for them, allowing the Spirit of God to guide us. We must work for them, honing our craft and never settling for 'good enough.' We must honour them by allowing them to be read, finding the markets that are right and persevering through rejection. We must, above all, learn from them, for God is teaching us through the words we write.

What language can we borrow? The language God has given, the words we struggle to find, the expressions that sing in our hearts, the bits of poetry we commit to memory, the lines from fiction and non-fiction that resonate deep with us. We borrow them all, as they become a part of us and a part of our own voice.

Step boldly into your field of words, though they may seem inadequate to express the wonder or pain in your heart. God has prepared them for you and they will speak, to you and to others.

Monday, February 14, 2005


Hi folks - check out this link -
Pat Loomis is hosting a bunch of blogs on writing. Some good stuff there! :)Marci

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Prayer and the Practice of our Trade

I heard an interesting quote recently, from the Jewish Talmud – “their prayer is in the practice of their trade.” The man quoting it was talking about working with wood, but I believe it can be just as well applied to working in words.

As we work at our trade, our writing, it becomes prayer when it is offered to God. It becomes a communication, first and foremost, One to another. Even when we have that third party, our audience, in mind, our writing can and perhaps should be primarily our connection to God. How many of you have written a piece that taught you more than it ever will the reader? How many of you have been convicted more by your own words than those who read them? How many of you have sensed the presence of God as the words spilled onto the page or screen in front of you?

No, I’m not talking about Divine inspiration. I’m talking about Divine communication. If our words do not teach us, convict us, inspire us, they will be dead words to those who read them after us. If we do not allow ourselves to be taught, convicted, inspired, we will not communicate well to our audience. It is when our writing has been communication to and from God that it throbs with passion and touches the reader. This communication, this prayer, is done at the deepest level of our hearts, our souls, and our minds. It may not happen every time we take up the tools of our craft, but it will happen if we are faithful to it and to the One who wants to use it.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Dropping Rose Petals

"Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo." (Don Marquis)

This quote makes me think of a cartoon I saw once and wish I had copied. It’s of a writer sitting at a desk surrounded by thousands of volumes in a library. An eager fan holds out a copy of his book for him to sign. The caption reads, “Being a writer must make you feel so…so significant!” The puzzled looked on the writer’s face made me laugh out loud. I know how he feels, and I’m sure you do to. In the face of the plethora of written work we often wonder why on earth we are driven to write. Hasn’t it all been said? Haven’t better writers already captured our thoughts on the page?

The answer is, ‘no.’ Your thoughts, said in your voice, have not been heard and yes, they are significant. They are significant not just because you have done your apprenticeship and reached a level of skill and expertise, but because you are you. You are a child of God, unique in the universe. The expression of that uniqueness, when done with pure motive, is honoring to your Creator. Therefore it is not only fitting that you do it, it is commanded. 1 Peter 4:10 says – “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Do you see what you write as a form of God’s grace to be extended to others?

Don Marquis’ quote could leave us with a sense of futility unless we know there is an echo, even the infinitely small sound of a rose petal falling in the Grand Canyon. The smallest of echoes has meaning when it is an echo of our Creator’s purpose. So toss your rose petals to the winds, scatter them with prayer and thanksgiving!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More than We Imagine?

Quote - "But how to get our voice out there. Amidst the cacophony of competition our frail voice is drowned by the wind? Where is the Maiden of Lorraine? Where is Joan of Arc?"

Maybe I'm just feeling contrary today, but I'm getting a little tired of hearing the same drum and have been wondering if we should be looking at it from a different angle. Add to the above, Where is Jesus? Where was he when he was on this earth? Obscure, unknown, rejected and despised. His voice was certainly drowned, by the screams of those who killed Him. He has told us that if we belong to Him we should expect the same.

But look what His Father did with His obedience.

Sometimes I wonder if we underestimate the effect the believers of the world have, including those who write exclusively within and for the CBA, those who remain in "the ghetto." (I hate that expression)

Don't get me wrong, I think there is a crying need for Christians to engage the culture on all fronts, but is the Christian community not a part of that? I think so. And perhaps a much more vital part than is apparent. We don’t know what’s going on in the heavenly realms every time a CBA book is read. Is there a battle? Is there a victory won? What effect does that have on our “twirling blue marble?” I think we might be surprised.

Sometimes I wonder if what we do, especially that which is done in obedience, has a much more profound and powerful effect than we imagine.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Redeeming Words

Some time ago a friend bought me a copy of a wonderful antique book, Trench’s Study of Words. It’s a series of lectures delivered by Richard Trench, Archbishop of Dublin, in the early 1800’s. Dr. Trench talks about the fact that words not only are an invention of God, but that they reflect both the most base of human nature and the most divine of God’s. It depends on how they are used. Take, for example, the name of God. Spoken as a curse it is a word that roars with anger, frustration, the pain of this world. Spoken as praise, it is a word that sings with joy, peace, the longing and promise of being fully united with Him.

Not only do words reflect the heart and mind of the writer, they reflect his soul. In his essay titled, On the Morality of Words, Dr. Trench says – “the influence of a Divine faith working in the world ... has ... elevated, purified and ennobled a multitude of words ... until these, which once expressed only an earthly good, express now a heavenly.” Jesus raised the bar on every level. When he redeemed man, he opened the door for man to bring all within his influence into the joy of that redemption.

Words, whether they are wrapped between the covers of a novel, in a tome on counseling methods, or formed into an article or poem in a magazine, can and will direct the course of life, of a culture, of history itself. When those words come from the heart of a believer, when they are wrapped in the covering of the Holy Spirit, they can achieve more than we as writers could imagine.

An amazing story was told at the Festival of Faith and writing in Grand Rapids a few years ago. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was released from prison some of his friends organized a gathering to celebrate. He was asked to read some of his poetry. These were words written in prison and smuggled out - words that brought courage and hope to those who lived under oppression. He began to recite those words, but, overcome by emotion, he could not go on. When he stopped, the entire audience continued, whispering the words of his poem back to him. There can be no doubt that those words directed the course of the lives of those who read them. We can assume they affected their culture. We can dare to believe they even changed the course of their history.

I believe that is the high calling of every Christian writer, to direct the language he/she uses to that level, to that higher usage. We may not reach the stature of such great writers as Solzhenitsyn, but we can reach the stature God intends for us. There is a way to ensure we reach that goal. That way can be stated in a few simple words, but is perhaps the hardest journey a human being can take. The way to accomplish such greatness is to stay close to Christ. Make sure your relationship with your creator is on solid ground. Keep that channel open and the words will flow from a healthy soul. They will be words of life, words of influence, though they be simple words.

In his essay, Dr. Trench goes on to say – “The Gospel of Christ, as it is the redemption of man, so is it in a multitude of instances the redemption of his word, freeing it from the bondage of corruption, that it should no longer be subject to vanity, nor stand any more in the service of sin or of the world, but in the service of God and of his truth.” (p.81)

The Apostle Paul tells us God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation... And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2Corinthians 5: 18,19) Let us reconcile our plain words, free them from the bondage of corruption, as Trench says, redeem them as Christ has redeemed us. Let all of what we write be in the service of God and of his truth. And let us be that “influence of a Divine faith working in the world.”