Word Becoming Flesh in the Life of a Writer

 “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us….” John 1:14. (NIV)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was called to carry the Word Made Flesh. Saying “yes” to that plan involved a huge surrender on Mary’s part. Obedience brought her under scrutiny and censure, not only in the public eye, but also–initially–with Joseph, whose opinion she must have valued.

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel told her, which was saying, in essence, “You are about to be shunned and ostracized in your hometown because you are going to get pregnant with God’s son and although you have never been touched by any man, nobody is going to believe your story and they are going to whisper and point at you when you walk by and call you harlot and whore and turn their backs when you enter a room.”

Sometimes the hardest part of being a Word carrier is believing the truth of The Word and not the words others speak over us.

Yes, as followers of Christ, we too, are Word carriers. Through our lives, we demonstrate Christ to those around us.

In the book Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr, she reflects on this time in Mary’s life and asks, “What kind of surrender is happening in you? Do you ever experience being called by a Word larger than your understanding? What is the newest Word that has become flesh in you, dwelling deep in the recesses of your being?”

As a writer, I can think of three words or phrases becoming flesh in me. 

  1. Trust is a word larger than my understanding. God is in charge, I am not. Oh, how hard this is for me to remember! I get caught up in book sales and deadlines. I get caught up in numbers! Not words. Numbers! God does not ask for the numbers to get larger in me, but His words. His life-changing words. Trust needs to expand in me.
  2. Fear not are words larger than my understanding. My college writing professor always told me that the job of the writer is to write what people cannot say or are afraid to say. “To write is to take an ax to the frozen sea within us,” Frank Kafka once said and I need those words to become larger in me. Fear not.
  3. Live real words is a phrase being made flesh in me. Not just written words. Not just paragraphs in my safe little office. A writer does not create sentences in a vacuum. Writing does require solitude and space, but words don’t leap onto the page out of nowhere. Life-changing words find their way on paper after living out the Word made flesh among His living, breathing creation. Live real words are words still being made flesh in me.

Today, on your journey of faith as a writer, I pray you say yes to the surrendering, not as a defeatist, but as one who walks one more step into life larger than your understanding, as the Word is made flesh in you. 

Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. She blogs at www.lynnehartke.com. You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

 

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Confessions of an Introvert Writer

crowded HallI have a writing conference coming up, and I’ve been trying not to think about it. Although I spend a good part of my work week happily among colleagues and teach big classrooms full of students with enthusiasm, I’m an introvert at heart, most content in front of my computer at home or out in my garden, alone. The thought of being among clots of strangers in some vast hotel lobby fills me with dread.

Anyway, I was thinking about how much I hate conferences and reminding myself of Crowded Wikimania 2009 welcome dinnerhow wonderful it’s been, on occasion, to stumble across a fellow God-lover among the strangers assembled there. The topic of faith comes up slantwise through some serendipitous comment about someone’s having read something in a church book club. Or maybe I notice a woman ducking her head briefly before lifting her fork to eat.

Such chance believers typically turn out to be quite different sorts of God-lovers than I am, which makes the encounters all the more thrilling. They refer to their pastor as “Father.” Or they go on about some pet business of politics important to their faith that I don’t give a rip about. Sometimes their God is barely recognizable as the God I know. Still, I want to sit next to them when I see them enter my next session and to eat my overdressed salad from a Styrofoam box at their table and to suck their occasional thoughts about God into my own.

FOUNTAIN_SQUARE'S__SITTING_WALLSYes, I’m that piteous stranger you meet sometimes at conferences whom you can’t seem to shake. Know this about me: I am in some sort of heaven, sitting there beside you, accepting the M&Ms you offer from the little bag you got out of a machine. We are siblings, you and I. We come from the same home.

I figure that’s how Abram the Hebrew—literally, Abram the Foreigner, the first instance of the word Hebrew in the Bible—must have felt that day after rescuing his cousin Lot and a bunch of other Sodom and Gomorrah inhabitants who’d been taken captive. When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah come out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, they bring along their friend Melchizedek, another king like them but also, we’re told, “priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18 ESV). Later, the writer of Hebrews will describe Jesus himself, repeatedly and at length, as a high priest “in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5.6, 5.10, 7.11, 7.17 NIV).

Melchizedek brings out bread and wine for them all to share—Catholics memorialize the event by mentioning Melchizedek during the Mass—and then he prays this prayer:

Abram, may you be blessed by God Most High,
the God who made heaven and earth.
And we praise God Most High,
who has helped you to defeat your enemies
(Genesis 14.19-20 NCV).

Wow. Imagine hearing that from a stranger! Imagine being a stranger among strangers yourself in the Valley of Shaveh, a place Abram’s never been before, a place where he’s so unlike everyone else, so alien to their values and practices, that people refer to him as “the Foreigner.”

Hearing Melchizedek’s words, sharing bread and wine with him, Abram must have felt himself, for a moment at least, at home. As a person of faith—which the author of Hebrews defines as one who welcomes God’s promises and acknowledges being a foreigner and stranger on this messed up earth—Abram suddenly finds himself, for a moment, where all the faithful want to be, in “a country of their own” (Hebrews 11.13-14 ISV). Not, that is, in “the land they had left behind” or even in the one in which they find themselves, but in “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11.15-16 NRSV).

Priests of God Most High. That’s who we are when we acknowledge God among strangers, whether at a conference or among our readers. And however strange and foreign we might feel ourselves to be, we are where we belong.

Of Making Many Books There Is No End, Dear Me . . .

Last month I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference & Book Fair in Boston. With over 11,000 writers in attendance, over 500 readings and sessions on everything from teaching creative writing to getting published, and over 650 exhibitors at the book fair, the AWP is easily the biggest literary conference in North America.

This is the third year I’ve attended. I bring home lots of book fair goodies for my students—writing contest announcements, literary magazine samples, little notebooks and buttons and koozies and USBs with literary slogans on them—and I always learn lots about both teaching writing and the business of writing.

Nevertheless, by day two of the four-day conference—though I’m still looking forward to the panel sessions and readings I’ve highlighted in my AWP planner—I’m impatient for it to be over with. It’s not just my usual introverted person’s conference malaise. It’s the feeling I have every time I enter Barnes & Noble, only 11,000+ times worse. Being in the company of that many fellow writers makes me feel so hopeless.

So many authors. So many books. Sleeping_at_the_bookshop_cropWho in the world will ever read all of them? I ask myself. And even in the privacy of my own mind, I don’t allow myself to ask the logical next question: What can I add to the billions of books already on the shelves, the eleven-thou-drillions of books yet to be published? And why bother?

Whenever I am overcome with one of these fits of writerly despair, I reluctantly remember the Wise Teacher’s remark at the end of his book of the Bible: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 NRSV). The passage is often preached as a disparagement of all writing but the Bible. As the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible explains, the “many books” in question are books “of mere human composition . . . as opposed to . . . these inspired writings,” and it is the study of these “mere human books” which “wearies the body, without profiting the soul.” What could be more discouraging to a Christian writer?

In any case, in hope of uncovering some trace of writerly optimism in the Teacher’s words, I went to Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the passage. Here it is in context:

Besides being wise himself, the Quester also taught others knowledge. He weighed, examined, and arranged many proverbs. The Quester did his best to find the right words and write the plain truth.

The words of the wise prod us to live well.
They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together.
They are given by God, the one Shepherd.

But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy. There’s no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out so you’re no good for anything else. The last and final word is this:

Fear God.
Do what he tells you.

And that’s it. Eventually God will bring everything that we do out into the open and judge it according to its hidden intent, whether it’s good or evil.
(Ecclesiastes 9-14 )

The Teacher—or, the Quester, as Peterson calls him—starts out by describing to his “dear friend” his own writing process: a weighing and examining and arranging not unlike the “orderly account” based on “investigating everything carefully” that Luke tells his own dear friend was his method in writing his gospel (Luke 1:3 NRSV).

Like any good writer, the Teacher seeks to tell the plain truth in just the right words. That, in any case, is what I keep telling my writing students should be their goal as writers.

Beyond that, the Teacher seems to be saying in Peterson’s version, don’t stress about it. Just strive to do what God wants you to do and trust that God will make of it what he wants.

And that, today, is my comfort as a writer, and my prayer: that my hidden intents will be found worthy and that God will make of my efforts what he will.