Writing and Incarnational Discovery

Posted by Marcia Lee Laycock
I’m pleased to have a guest columnist today. I trust you will be blessed and challenged by Stephen Berg’s reflections –
We live in a violent
world. That’s hardly a secret. We have been formed by a culture of war and
violence, the nature of which we often keep willfully hidden from ourselves. But sometimes we intentionally remember war, so that we can in some way dispel it, so
that at least violence of a global scale can be named and thwarted. And we
hope that in the naming, in the remembering, something like grace and peace may
And yet, as Flannery
O’Connor has said, “Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for
the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for
the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.” And so in
O’Connor’s fiction, violence and the grotesque act as the cudgel to awaken the
sleeping (that’s us) to the reality of something like an intrusion of grace.
Of course violence is
never the cause of grace, but it can, in its great distortions of social
solidarity and communal life, reflect back to us our own propensity toward envy
and rivalry, and in this uncovering, perhaps allow us the grace of seeing
ourselves as we truly are—which is, if it happens, an occasion of mercy.
A writerly goal I
repeatedly come short of, which is never less a goal, is to stay awake to those
intrusions of grace and occasions of mercy, and so perhaps to seize them. For
as long as there is language there is a desire to get at that meaning through honest reflection and a
need to communicate it clearly. And the closer we can come to the nub and nut
of things through true communication, the more set in relief grace becomes. And
the closer the personal reflection, the more universal the meaning. For that,
after all, is the nature of our Incarnate world, which the nature of violence
attempts to usurp.
I have a notion that
as Christian writers, writing for this kind of—if I can call it—Incarnational
discovery, is at the bottom of most of our goals. For if it isn’t, I suppose
we’re simply adding to the heap of informative tracts and very little to the
meaning of things.
Of course as lofty or
flighty as this sounds, it’s only through the “habit of art,”
(Maritain) that we come to apprehend and then relay these meanings. For as we
writers sit down to write out some vague and fleeting idea, we are immediately
thrown into the practical question of form. And its through the daily habit of
wrestling with this most basic aspect of writing where a discovery is made, a
true thing found. 
And as O’Connor has
said somewhere, writers ought to be able to discover something from their
writing, if not, there’s little chance the reader will.

Stephen Berg: disappointed hippy, approximate monk, writer.

Stephen lives with his wife Deb in Edmonton’s downtown core; he works for Hope
Mission as director of development (professional beggar).

He is the 2009 recipient of the Waldo Ranson Spirit of Edmonton Award for his
work in community care.

He is a frequent contributor to the Edmonton Journal’s Religion page, and
writes about faith, culture, social care and justice.

He blogs at Growmercy
Contact him about this post