Have you ever thought of writing as an act of faith?
It takes faith:
- To have an idea and start putting it into words even before you understand all that it means;
- To keep on writing without knowing if any of it will ever make sense to anyone else;
- To spend hours alone at your desk when you could be digging a well or hugging a child or helping a neighbour or making money or doing just about anything else that seems more productive or playful or prayerful;
- To send your words out in the world where they immediately take on a life of their own for better or worse and run the risk of falling flat or simply disappearing in the crowd.
Author E.B. White once wrote, “Writing is an act of faith, not of grammar.” I can easily see the evidence of this in his well-loved children’s books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, that I read as a child, and in his essays that I later discovered as an adult. Yet curiously, given his statement against grammar, he was also one-half of “Strunk and White” whose classic text The Elements of Style actually begins with rules of grammar: “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s,” “Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.” Clearly White did not ignore grammar–how else would we make sense to one another?–yet writing is more than following the rules. As an act of faith, writing also means imagination and risk, a journey without always knowing the destination or the way.
In The Artist’s Way, author and artist Julia Cameron says this about art which includes the art of writing:
Art is a spiritual transaction.
Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance–often visible to us, but invisible to those around us. . . . . Art is an act of faith, and we practice practicing it. (page xiii)
But is writing as an act of faith worth it? I ask myself. Maybe for E.B. White and Julia Cameron and other well-known, well-read writers. And yet when I think of my own writing, I sometimes wonder, why bother? Aren’t there already so many other wonderful blogs and books that I should just spend my time reading instead of writing? Is there really any point of adding my small voice to the mix? Someone else can always say it better and likely already has.
It seems that any act of faith, whether writing or anything else, leaves that wiggle room of doubt and second guessing. And yet I know–I know–that every voice is needed, every voice is important–yours and mine and everyone’s. Published and unpublished, private or public, blog or book, writing is an act of faith, and so it matters.
I read something that helped me with this in Leah Kostamo’s Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community. As she tells the story of the first Christian environmental centre in Canada, she also shares her own story and some of her questions–even as she engages in creation care as an act of faith, she also confesses “that on occasion I question the legitimacy of “earthkeeping” as worthwhile work. . . . is this worth it?” (pages 4-5). Her affirmation applies to my questions about writing as an act of faith too. She writes:
just because I believe that creation care is Christian work does not mean I believe that the task of earthkeeping is the only, or even the most important, work a Christian should be doing. Because I’ve taken ecology’s pattern of interconnectedness seriously I understand that the gospel functions in much the same way. Biblically understood, the church is one body made up of many parts, and it takes all parts to live out a whole gospel. Therefore, I applaud the caring community development worker, the humble evangelist, the erudite theologian, the dogged relief worker, the clever novelist, and the compassionate civil rights activist. All these are potential messengers of God’s love and help bring God’s kingdom to earth. I just don’t think one is better or more important than the others–we need them all (just like we need construction workers, police officers, parents and artists who see their vocations as “spiritual” callings). But let’s not be reductionistic here. While creation care as a vocation is a specific calling, as a a way of life it is everyone’s calling. Just as every Christian is called to witness to God’s love, so too, all Christians are called to steward creation. (page 31)
In the same vein, when I think of writing as an act of faith, I might also say that not everyone has a vocation to write, but all of us perform acts of faith every day–for Christians, it’s our faith in Christ that shapes our vocation, whether writing or earth-keeping or parenting or art or whatever we do, and for anyone–even if you don’t think of yourself as religious, even if faith seems like a foreign country to you–acts of faith are part of being human. We all take leaps that we can’t explain, we all sense the unseen beyond what we see, if not in worship and prayer, then in nature, art, music, the eyes of a lover or a child. We have eternity in our hearts as an ancient preacher once noted (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
And so I continue with “writing and other acts of faith,” and have chosen these words as the new tagline for my blog. I was never totally at ease with “practical spirituality” as a blog title since while I firmly believe that spirituality is for practical, everyday living, I am equally convinced that spirituality must also be lived out in “impractical,” radical, and sacrificial ways. The old title also never fully accounted for my posts on creativity and writing, yet those have proven to be among the most popular posts on my blog. In fact, three out of my five all-time top posts are writing-related. So “writing and other acts of faith” makes a better title–big enough to cover all my posts so far with plenty of room to grow.
For more on writing and other acts of faith,
15 thoughts on “Writing and Other Acts of Faith”
Appreciated this post, as I am going to try/start writing a book this year: non-fiction Christian. Right now I am in the reading, research, thinking phase.
The first 2 points really express my concerns: To have an idea and start putting it into words even before you understand all that it means; To keep on writing without knowing if any of it will ever make sense to anyone else.
My topic is actually several topics – but they are related to each other.The trick will be if I can bring these topics together in a smooth fashion to make a coherent argument. We shall see…
Hi Laura – what a wonderful plan for your year! I’m interested to see how the book unfolds for you. Weaving several topics into one sounds promising since it will draw interest from different quarters and allow you to explore each topic in a multi-faceted way in relation to others. I hope that you’ll share more of your book and progress when you can do that without taking energy away from your reading, research, thinking and writing. May God give you a spirit of encouragement as you step out in faith.
Thanks for the encouragement April!
What you say is so true, April. At first, a small idea forms and if I write it down and give it time it begins to grow into something that is far beyond what I initially began. Every time I start a project I do so with fear and trembling, and I’m always a bit amazed at the finished product! Not amazed in the sense of “wow, look what I achieved” but in the sense of “where did this come from?”
Thanks April. Your title was already a potent message to me. Even after publishing a first book, starting a second, writing weekly sermons, and creating a weekly blog, I still hear that Inner Critic voice regularly saying, “Who cares what you have to say.” I am slowly learning to respond with the truth: “I write because I need to write, and sometimes other people find it meaningful too.”
You’re so welcome, and I appreciate your voice of experience on this. That Inner Critic can be so persistent! Good thing that you are learning to talk back, and I hope can be just as persistent as you continue to write for yourself and others.
Thanks and blessings, April. I just had to highlight this on the Christian Poets & Writers blog – http://christianpoetsandwriters.blogspot.com. 🙂
Thanks for the highlight, Mary, and for the wonderful way you support Christian poets and writers.
April, thank you for articulating something I have “felt” for a long time, but have not named. Writing is an act of faith for me, on two very different levels. On the obvious level, my writing explores and expresses my faith, implicitly and explicitly. A second level seems superficial at first, but in reality it is deep, at least for me. Every time I put something out there, it is an act of faith that readers will be generous in their reading of what I write. I frequently let something sit awhile once it is written before I click “send.” I am, like E. B. White, very concerned about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. But more importantly, I am concerned about how readers will “hear” what I say. I consider everything I write as a reflection of me, of who I am: what makes me tick, my pet peeves, my rants, my passions and concerns. Failure to proofread practically always results in my frustration and embarrassment at an error being out there for others to judge me. When I rant about the injustices around me I fear others will see me as an outspoken, even angry person. When I “play” with words, or use humor in a variety of ways, I wonder if people will take me seriously. If I use religious language will readers think of me as too “far-out” religiously. I wonder what others will perceive in my writing about my subconscious. Will they “know” me in a way that I have not acknowledged to myself?
So when I write, I pray that others will be gracious of my writing, forgiving of errors, seeing beyond mistakes to the real content. I pray that they will receive the real content as a gift I have to offer. And I pray even more that I will extend a forgiving, gracious and compassionate heart towards others’ writing as an act of their faith, and receive their writing as their gift to me.
Ruth, I appreciate your articulating this aspect of writing as an act of faith. Writing means risk, makes us vulnerable, and I too hope for charitable and generous readers. As you point out, this goes both ways, for when we writers become readers, we have the opportunity to be the kind of readers we hope for. Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience. I receive your words as a wonderful gift.
This is an interesting thought, especially since I’ve been writing professionally for almost 40 years (and if you count an early poem published in the long ago With magazine, longer than that!) I have often thought of how writing allows me to express faith and struggle with faith, but as an act of faith because you don’t know how others will receive it and respond (in their being)–that’s a great thought. When others let me know a column or blog post touched them this way or that, in a way I hadn’t thought of, I feel like that is the Holy Spirit at work. Just some thoughts here! I like the way you refresh your blog and try out new angles/taglines, emphases. Do you do the design work yourself? Good job!
Hi Melodie – thanks for the confirmation from your experience, and yes! it’s amazing how the Holy Spirit works in ways beyond what we imagine. I’ve changed my blog design and tagline a couple of times since I started blogging, but my domain name and address have remained constant so people can find me, and I’ve stayed with WordPress.com which has given me a solid foundation, room to grow, and a blogging community. WordPress offers a great selection of themes that can be customized quite easily even by beginners, so in one sense, yes, I did the design work myself (e.g., choosing the font for my blog title, playing with different colours), but all on the basic Opti theme and with a lot of help from the Opti Theme Forum on WordPress. I’ve enjoyed experimenting, and I’m glad you like it!
Thank you so much for this post! From what I read here today I’m honored you chose to follow my blog, as I continue leaping into the unknown of faith with my own words. Tuesday is my day for posting what I pray God will use to encourage others, or as Paul wrote in Phil 1:25, help them find “progress and joy in the faith…” I’m glad we are each doing our part.
Thank you for stopping by – I was glad to discover your blog and to do a bit of browsing. I especially liked your end-of-year questions that will also set your direction for 2015: “Did my existence here on this orb hurtling through space make any difference? Was there anything I did or said this year that made a contribution to God’s plans or purposes? Did I use the gift of this year of life to improve the lives of anyone else?” Thank you for sharing, and all the best to you in this new year!