The Jewish Talmud says, of craftsmen: “Their prayer is in the practice of their trade.” Each time we take up the tools of our trade, we are in prayer. Each time we write, therefore, we would be wise to be listening. For it is as we write, as we work at our craft, that we learn about God.
You have heard it said that all art is autobiography. From the Greek – autos – meaning self, + bios – meaning life + graphein – meaning to write. I believe all art is also deo-biography. The art, the words that are in us, come not only from our experience of life, but from that inner core, from our spirit. When Christ is resident there, and when we write from the depth of that place, we are writing the life of Christ. What an awe – inspiring challenge! What a privilege! What a gift!
Maurice Blanchot has said – “To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking.” I believe it is not a what, but a Who. I believe that because of the depth of His love for us, God cannot, will not, cease speaking to us. As we become echoes of Him, we will know He has given us our writing not only as a means to speak, but as a means to hear and understand.
I have three daughters who have taught and continue to teach me much. My eldest, Kate, is now 25. She’s a wonderful young woman, whose path through adolescence had, as many do, a few rough spots. She was going through one of those times when she was asked to sing at our church. She knew it was scheduled, she knew it was up to her to make all the arrangements. When the Sunday morning came this is what happened –
I titled it Singer. (Those of you who know the writing of Walter Wangerin Jr. may see some influence here. 😉
On our way to church, my daughter and I:
“Did you arrange for a pianist?”
“You’re doing this a capella?”
“I don’t know yet.”
My voice, rising a decibel or two. Or maybe three:
“Then maybe you’d better postpone …”
“No. I want to sing.”
“But you should have arranged…”
“I know, Mother. But it will be fine. I just want to sing.”
I sighed. Oh, my daughter.
Between Sunday School and the main service:
I found her in an empty classroom, her finger in a hymnal, her face turned toward the light of a far window. I opened my mouth, closed it again. Her eyes were open, but it felt like the room was full of prayer.
Later, in the sanctuary:
I watched her, sitting at the end of the pew, one long leg thrown over the other, the hymnal in her hand, finger still in it. She took a bulletin, scanned it, opened the hymnal, moved her finger to a different spot. I sighed, again. They called on her, just before the sermon.
On the podium:
She took the hymnal with her, left it closed, and sang: Joy of Man’s Desiring. And the room filled with it, her voice, her face, her body yearning for it, drawing us up with her, up into the presence of our God. I held my breath.
Oh, my daughter.
And in the end:
I prayed forgiveness on myself, my need to work all things into my plan. I prayed release for all of us, to His will, His Spirit. I wept. And then I smiled.
Oh, my daughter.
When that incident happened, I did not understand it. I did not know what it was I had learned. I only knew I had been deeply moved. Something in my spirit had responded to something in that song, and more, to the attitude in which it had been sung. Because I had been moved, I needed to express it, I needed to write it. As I began to write, I began to understand what it was God wanted to teach me.
When we are moved deeply, when we then attempt to express that moment, that experience, we move toward wholeness, the wholeness that is in us because Christ is in us. And we learn more about Him. Prayer, in the practice of our trade.