|Meditation: The Writer's Quest
Copyright 2002 by William Meisheid (6-22-02)
Lord, my thoughts have been on my writing a lot lately as I struggle to find the time and inspiration to advance the first story of Moses to its conclusion, a sight still far on the horizon. While putting some things away I came across an article, actually a chapter from a book that had been copied and sent to me with notes by a friend. It was written by Eugene H. Peterson, a former United Presbyterian pastor, writer, and long time author for Inter Varsity press. I have his book, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" on the shelf nearby. The piece that was sent is called "God and Passion" and it comes from a book about Fyodor Dostoevsky. I thank you Lord for the grace of bringing this work to my attention again. There are notes from my friend and additional notes and underlines from my first reading and you are using all of this to challenge me in ways I am only beginning to comprehend.
Eugene says, "Being a writer and being a pastor are virtually the same thing for me: an entrance into chaos, the mess of things, and then the slow mysterious work of making something out of it, something good, something blessed—poem, prayer, conversation, sermon, a sighting of grace, a recognition of love, a shopping of virtue. This is the YESHUA of the Hebrew faithful, the SOTERIA of the Greek Christians. Salvation. The recovery by creation and recreation of the image of God. Writing is not a literary act but a spiritual. And pastoring is not managing a religious business but a spiritual quest."
Thank you for this reminder, Lord. While I can understand writing being a spiritual quest, I have resisted allowing it to be that encompassing in my own efforts. I considered it too exhausting, requiring too much prayer time, too much contemplation, too much sacrifice, in addition to the already demanding effort to just write well. However, Eugene tells me that what gave both his writing and his pastorship its worth was his "passion for God". My thoughts ask, "Are not "passion for God" and "spiritual quest" synonymous?" Can I have one and without having the other?
A song comes to mind that I have found compelling lately. It is by group called PFR (Pray For Rain) and it is the third track on their album "Great Lengths". The title is "Merry Go Round". There is a catchy chorus that goes, "cause I don't want to be just another horse on the Merry Go Round. I am starting to see another course and its time I got down." This little refrain has made me think about the merry go round of secular life that consumes much of my day. I thought I had done an acceptable job of staying off it. Haven't I been a committed Christian? Don't I strive to be "in the world" but not "of the world"? But the refrain continues to pound away at my brain, echoing back and forth in my thoughts, forcing me to think about what it means to be on the world's merry go round.
The kicker this time is that the questions relate to my writing. I am a technical writer and I write for a living. I have also started blogging, writing every day and posting it on a web page for other people to look at. As I dialog in pray with you I hear question about my ego and I think about that along with the reputed fragileness of the author's creative self, how it is here one day and gone the next, revealing the fear of every author. With blogging, which is like being a daily commentator, there is pressure not to grow stale, to be interesting and provocative and criticism can hurt.
There are probably enough books to fill a single library on the subject of ego and self, especially with the current concerns about "self esteem" and its role in a successful life. I have begun to look at how important my "self esteem" seems to be to my writing. It looks like I have an insatiable need for acceptance, for someone, even many someones, to validate my efforts. I regularly check to see how many people have read my contributions and I soar with any email of acceptance and encouragement and become brought down by any criticism or rejection.
Then I am reminded of Eugene's observation. He contrasts "Self" and "Soul". He calls Self the devilish distortion of Soul with all the "God-hunger and the righteousness-thirst excised." As I pray you force me to ask myself if that may be a problem with my writing life. Is it self concerned rather than soul concerned; is it the fulfilling of my self or my soul?
I am reminded that writing can be manipulation. I think of my efforts at crafting finely worded arguments or maybe more to the point in my fiction. I think of managed climaxes and denouements, that cascade the reader through a programmed set of experiences much like the new total immersion multimedia theme park rides. Do I craft the story with my self, centered in an effort to elicit response and effect, demonstrating my "greatness" as a writer, or do I craft it with my soul, with honest passion for you, without letting the mechanics dictate the center? I think to myself, "Can this concern with soul even be a way to write?"
Eugene points out that Joseph Stalin once said, "Paper will put up with anything written on it." I would add that a story will accept any plot and a plot any manipulation that maintains some internal consistency. But now I think, what about its soul? Don't we talk about stories, books having souls? Can a book really have soul unless it has characters, and a plot and theme that have God hunger? Is this the difference between the books that stand and are remember through time and do not fade with fashion? Do they have soul rather than self?
In one place Eugene says, "A writer discovers a workable plot and writes the same book over and over all his life to the immense satisfaction of his readers. The readers can feel literary without thinking or dealing with truth. Prostitute writer." Is the writer he speaks of one who writes for self rather than soul and therefore a prostitute? Well, it would appear that prostitutes sell and sell well.
This insight is difficult to integrate, since as I pull at one thread, several others start to unravel with it. In another place Eugene talks about cliché's and stereotypes when he quotes Dostoevsky again, "People seem to be watered down. . . [they are] darting and rushing about before us every day, but in a diluted state." It immediately makes me ask if my characters are diluted. Do they have any soul or are they merely the empty self of Eugene's definition, in the diluted state of Dostoevsky's example, empty of God hunger.
I remember so many of the heroes of the books I have read, that while they may be exciting and even noble, they seem empty after the thrill has worn off. They are like shadows in the mist with no lasting substance. Its as if they are caricatures, not people. Upon reflection I see that they are missing even a hint of God hunger at their core. To be honest, these are secular writers, but very few outside of Stephen King or Dean R. Koontz are willing to have characters who even have a spiritual dimension, much less a Christian one.
As I look at over Christian writers, such as the authors of the Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, as they attempt to give their heroes a foundation of Godliness, I begin to ask, is it a reflection of Eugene's soul or self. As think back on the characters in Left Behind, I remember my frustration with their apparent lack of real depth. Oh the story moves along and sometimes is exciting but the people fit the story rather than the story being about the people. I don't yet know the answer. I do know that there must be something, however, to explain the shallowness I feel about the characters I meet in the books I read. As I think back, they are hard to remember, they are not real enough to be true memories in my mind.
Its not just the heroes, the villains too, lack any real soul. We may ask how a villain can have soul but I remember lament of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust, as he decries his inability to be redeemed. Though villains are by necessity evil, the real ones are still filled with an unquenchable God hunger. While it is actively denied, even profanely railed against, it asserts itself in the expression of their escalating evil, which is really a futile attempt to drown out the truth of eternity ringing in the center of their being: only God can fill the hole in the core of their existence, their soul. Denying it or railing against it doesn't change it.
So I pray. Where am I in all of this Lord? Is this a journey I can take? Can I confront my self and find my soul as a writer? Can I give my story and my characters real soul or will I remain a prostitute seeking only -the easy expressions of reader-pleasing self. The obvious question is will my non-Christian readers respond to characters with real soul? How will my Christian readers react? I pray for your help as I tread this difficult and treacherous path, filled with so many false trails and fateful dead ends. Redeem me and my writing by putting teaching me to put self in service to soul. Let me have the trust necessary to allow you to do the things necessary to restore my soul. Have mercy upon me, O Lord.