“Anybody can write . . . that is easy, but to write with a specific audience in mind, using the right amount of amusement and persuasion, to address them in a manner that is relevant and insightful, while offering practical advice in a convivial manner—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
These could have been Aristotle’s words on the preface of his how-to book “On Writing,” readying readers—with all the heft and seriousness of his oracular prose—for the challenges of the writerly craft. I wish he had written such a book and not just the short manual on ethics from which I concocted this phrase. As anyone who has stared at a blank page—or screen—with a mixture of dread and trepidation knows, deciding what to say to an audience can often feel like an act of divination.
Given the limited space, I would like to outline a helpful process: I always begin by doing a bit of reading—call it inspirational research. For example, I read the Day Resources section of the Sundays and Seasons Planner. In these texts, I identify what is drawing my attention the most, keeping in mind that the backdrop for my inward listening is provided by the lectionary, the liturgical season, the commemorations of saints, and what is happening in the world. Finally, in a manner reminiscent of Lectio Divina, I comb through the hymnal until something catches: an unusual phrase, a curious insight, or an unexpected connection. Only then do I feel ready to begin.
For example, Paul Gerhardt’s poetic witness (ELW 788, 273, and 378) served our congregation as a morale booster at the start of the pandemic. Later, a comparison between the text of Fred Pratt Green’s hymn “Now It Is Evening” (ELW 572) and the lyrics from the theme song from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood anchored a meditation on the meaning and value of community as a reminder of the importance of wearing masks. Finally, this year, Susan Palo Cherwien’s hymn “As Your Spirit in the Desert” (ACS 923) gaved us a perspective with which to assess both our Lenten journey and quarantined lives, refreshing for us the image of the cross as the perennial symbol of God’s promises.
Contrary to what that made-up Aristotelian piece of advice would have us think, I believe one can accomplish the delicate balancing act described above when curiosity leads to discovery, and discovery to enthusiasm. So, I pray and commend us, aspiring and practicing writers, to the mercies of a loving, ever-sustaining God, by using the first stanza of Carl Daw Jr.’s hymn, “O God, Who Gives Us Life,” (ACS 1086):
O God, who gives us life and breath,
who shapes us in the womb,
who guards our lives from birth to death,
then leads us from the tomb:
deliver us from fears that kill
the life we have from you.
Help us to know your Spirit still
is making all things new.
Peace and Joy,