Every year I host a faculty essay reading at my university for our collective entertainment. At the beginning of the semester, I choose and cajole a dozen colleagues from across the curriculum to write personal essays on a shared subject. Then, sometime around Thanksgiving, I invite the rest of the campus to come hear them read the resulting essays aloud. It’s always a fun evening, everyone feeling proud afterward of what they accomplished.
Though the selected essayists have composed entire dissertations of scholarly writing, most have never set out to write for entertainment alone, so getting them to do it necessitates pep talks from me along the way as well as a fair amount of collaborative back-and-forthing between them and the trusted readers I encourage them to seek out. When they report to me on how it’s going and, afterward, on how it went, my colleagues are bashful and sincere and loveably modest as at no other time in my interaction with them.
“I got my daughter—she’s in high school—to read through it and make sure it made sense,” a grizzled professor of engineering tells me.
Another tells me how, in the course of writing about a Picasso painting her autistic son loved but she didn’t, she kept asking him questions and managed, through these exchanges, to get a rare glimpse of the world from his perspective.
Yet another colleague makes an appointment with me after the reading to work on improving his essay even more. He takes away from our discussion an argumentation skill that he is still bringing up in meetings years later: that you can’t convince someone of a truth unless you show it.
That’s the part of the event I like the most—my colleagues’ accounts of the process of composition. It’s so thrilling to watch seasoned writers grow into better writers through the humbling practice of sharpening iron on iron. Hearing the essays read aloud—every one of them so good!—and then witnessing the enthusiasm with which their audience applauds their achievement—yes, very good!—confirms what I am always telling my students: that, we humans having been made in the image of our creative God, our practice of creativity is as holy as the exercise of any of God’s other traits. And as pleasurable.
It often makes me feel a little guilty that my work, both as a teacher of writing and as a writer myself, is so enjoyable. It hardly seems like work at all, much less holy work, as I have come to think of it. But when we write well—when, through our words on a page, we interest and engage an audience in what is true and lovely and admirable and excellent—we are performing the work of God.
When asked what God’s work is, Jesus says, “to believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29). Writing, and teaching others to write, helps me to believe ever more confidently in the One God Sent—through whom, says John, “all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3 NIV). Good writing recreates, in words, what has been made through the Word and offers it up to others for their contemplation and enjoyment. What work could be more sacred?