Flannery O’Connor prays: “Dear God, tonight it is not disappointing because you have given me a story. Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story — just like the typewriter was mine.” An instrument for God’s story, nothing more, nothing less. Could this image permeate our sense of self and purpose so wholly that every word we utter, every act we execute becomes a catalyst for furthering the narrative of Good News for all people? If so, what would we say, write, create and do?
God gives us not just the story of salvation, but countless stories, sentences to interpret the Word, parables that grant us ears to hear what the Risen Christ is saying to the church, poems that enact divine performative utterings happening right now. Our creative God makes of us vessels for beauty and truth. God gives us a story, a poem, a painting, a script, a dance, a song, a melody, a sculpture. Are we bold enough to surrender ourselves to those gifts and brave enough to share them not only with our Creator but also with the world? Some of us release our nascent creations fearfully and only because an inexplicable force makes keeping them under a bushel impossible.
In “Letters to a Young Poet,” Rilke writes to Franz Kappus, “A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity.” Rilke encourages Kappus to ask himself: Must I write? If the answer is “I must,” then Rilke continues, “build your life according to this necessity, your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.” The words and images, movements and music God writes on our hearts cannot be contained. They burn in our bones, wake us up at night, nudge us to begin and begin again. Critics sting. Collaborators contribute. Editors shape. Friends encourage. Publishers say no. But what we must write compels us to create no matter our medium and we persist regardless of the outside noise or running commentary.
James Baldwin also names the irrepressibility of creating: “Something that irritates you and won’t let you go. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book, or die. You have to go through that. Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.”
Baldwin says, “You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone.” Emily Dickinson writes, “Tell the whole truth but tell it slant.” Susan Sontag contends: “The story must strike a nerve — in me. My heart should start pounding when I hear the first line in my head. I start trembling at the risk.” Charles Bukowski admonishes, “Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.”
Beauty abounds. Goodness cries out. Truth sings like cicadas in the summer. Our bones burn. The Spirit overshadows. Languages we never knew shout forth from our lips. God gives us a story and the story and our stories. The word of the Lord refuses to be silenced. Therefore, we too must write, speak, create and in so doing we will not be disappointed. God’s word never returns empty, but accomplishes that which God pleases. Once we hear the Logos we must echo the grace upon grace spoken to us until it reverberates through all the earth or die.
Today is not disappointing. God has given us a story. Some of us proclaim it in verse, others in prose. Some sing the narrative, others dance or paint, serve or cook, take photographs or make spreadsheets to the glory of God. All of us are nothing more and nothing less than instruments for God’s story. Maya Angelou said in an interview that she kept a Bible near her as she wrote and would often read passages aloud: “For melody. For content also. I’m working at trying to be a Christian and that’s serious business. … I’m trying to be a Christian and the Bible helps me to remind myself what I’m about.” God has given us a story to remind us what we are about. How must you tell it?
Grace and peace,