Monday, October 4, 2010

Along the Spectrum of Divine Words

The older I get, the more sensitive I have become to music. Some writers can’t write without music in the background, others enjoy it, but for me the melodies -- and sometimes some unfortunate phrases -- get stuck in my head. (How would you like to have “angels in the architecture” (Paul Simon) and “The people who walk-ed in darkness” from Handel’s Messiah playing over and over in your head?)

Mysterious words get stuck in my head too. For instance, I once had the name “Homer Rodeheaver” running just under the surface of my consciousness for weeks. Since this happened before the Internet, I couldn’t find anyone who could identify that name. Only when I happened to notice the fine print under a hymn title in a hymnal did I discover I’d been looking at his name for years as the copyright owner of “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Beyond the Sunset,” “In the Garden” and many other songs I sang.

But the flip side of my weirdness is that sometimes original phrases pop into my head. Though sometimes I sit and try to finesse a description of a subject I’m writing about, more often the description emerges fully formed.

In such a case, how should I evaluate it? I want to believe that it is the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, stimulating my mind. Even when I’m writing a nonfiction article or book for the secular market (I write often for Military Officer magazine, for instance), I believe that God helps me with research, sources, and organization of my materials.

It seems to me that there’s a spectrum of divine involvement in the lives of people who deal with words. At one extreme is the idea of verbal inspiration such as many people believe resulted in the writing of Scripture itself. At the other end is cursing, blasphemy, and foolish talk that excludes God.

So where on this spectrum do you believe your writing falls?


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Interesting question! I've never exactly thought of it in terms of divine inspiration before, but I had a real God-experience while writing a conversion scene in my current novel. I know conversion scenes can be considered tacky and trite and all the rest of it, but in writing this one I really felt as though I was touching something simple and essential and profound. The words just poured out. It brought me to tears. I've never cried over my writing before - honestly, I'm heartless with my characters. But this touched something in me at the soul level.

More recently I wrote a short story with a non-believer protag. It contains cursing. It's also a story about the Divine in our everyday world, and how blind we can be as a human race when we fail to recognise the God who gave us life. It's a story that arose out of my deep hunger for the lost. How do we share Christ with people who don't even recognise their need of him?

I don't feel that this story was any less Spirit-inspired because it contains earthy elements. Definitely too earthy for some people's tastes, which I understand and respect. But this was not a story written for believers - the ones who might be offended. It was written for those who might see a glimpse of themselves in the story, and perhaps as a result, open themselves for just a moment to a deeper truth. (The conundrum, as Megan pointed out after the last post, is who will publish stuff like that? To my delight, this story has just been accepted by Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression. The question remains whether I will actually reach my intended audience, or merely a more "tolerant" section of the Christian community.)

So as to the spectrum you mentioned, Latayne - I don't know where I fall on it. I just want to produce fruit for God and I know I can't do it without his grace.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I was on the receiving end of some harsh words this weekend. It reminded me how I want to be so careful, yet carefree at the same time with my words. I think that's why I love to write so much. The freedom of putting anything on the page with the assurance of editing later.
~ Wendy

Sara said...

As regards music--my college roommate swore that she couldn't write without music on, but only instrumental. I got used to working with movie soundtracks going. I can't write to music with words though.

Meg Moseley said...

It's always fun to get a glimpse into another writer's brain. :)

I can't play music when I'm writing. It destroys my focus. If I listen to music while I drive, though, ideas start to flow, and they have nothing to do with the lyrics of the music.

Original phrases pop into my head sometimes too, at the strangest times. Sometimes they're exactly what I need for a particular story. Other times, they're pure drivel. I have no idea how all of this works. I'm just glad when it's not drivel.

Jan Cline said...

I really think you are write about how the writer's brain works in relationship to the Holy Spirit. We are all wired to process information differently and I believe God communicates to us within our uniqueness. Words are what we are about. I most often have worship song running through my head since I am on the worship team. I wake up with them in my head. I think it's the H.S. setting my attitude up for the day!

Sally Napthali said...

It is so true that the Holy Spirit is involved in this book writing gig. In the time that I’ve been writing I’ve never felt God in more control than he is now. He’s guiding my thoughts, ideas and even brings people across my path that mould my thinking. It's almost magical, how he guides your thoughts. I’ve often questioned God in the past, with a slight niggling doubt in the back of my head - Is God really at work in everything? I now feel that doubt has been booted off into outer space. I believe it more than ever, this is his book, and he is in control of it.

I focus on non-fiction writing, but I have found the essence of fiction to be just as inspiring. God will use what you write whether it’s a direct reflection of him or just a good entertaining story. I’ve often heard preachers use fiction stories to highlight a biblical truth. Two years ago a Pastor in my church was preaching on persevering. He used Scripture reference of course, and of which I can’t recall, but he caught my attention from an example in the movie - Finding Nemo. Dory the fish in her forgetful manner saying over and over - "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming". She was reminding herself to just keep moving forward, even when she was tired or confused. It’s quite an annoying scene, but every time I find myself discourage and frustrated, especially with writing I remember Dory. “Just keep swimming” - “Just keep writing”. What an amazing influence this one small part of a fiction story has had on me.

You may never know the depth of influence your fiction book will have. I am confident of this - if God has gifted you to write, and he has placed it on your heart, he’ll use it in ways beyond your imagination.

Sally Napthali

Unknown said...

Friends, I apologize for not responding sooner in the day -- Blogger has been weird today and several times today it wouldn't let me respond.

Karen, I appreciate you pointing out that different language is necessary in different situations. I take my cue from the Lord Himself who addressed Israel with tenderness when they returned to Him, and sometimes in what we might regard as crude confrontation (see Ezekiel 23 for a good example.)

Wendy, your comment reminded me of a quote I read today from a writer who said that the great thing about writing is that you can say what you want without being interrupted. And you can edit what you shouldn't have said!

Unknown said...

Sara, I confess I don't understand how people can write anything with music in the background. It's all a mystery to me. And Meg, I'm wondering too about some of the worthless stuff that pops into my head sometimes. I find myself wasting a substantial amount of time every day because I want to follow up on things -- like I researched Steven Segal and I don't even like him.

Unknown said...

Jan, what you said made me think about the fact that worship music does help focus my mind. (What am I saying-- a worship song that whose lyrics I composed was recorded by Acappella on a Word/Epic album!) But in my thinking, worship is one-directional, from me to God. Writing sometimes is an endless loop of ideas and I'm not sure where the ideas originate.

Sally, I appreciate your conviction about the involvement of God in your book. I pray He will bless your faithfulness to His calling and direction.

Megan Sayer said...

Something that made a big difference for me a little while ago was the realisation that I was writing WITH God, as opposed to FOR God, or even just about God. When that began to seep into my spirit I found my writing fell into place more naturally. I wrote what God put on my heart for that day, and discovered themes of my book that I hadn't seen previously.

The other day I was in the shower thinking and praying about an article I had to write that day, and all of a sudden the Holy Spirit started downloading it to me! It went through a couple of rewrites, but it was such a great starting point.

Sally: I love your Dory story - I'll remember that one!

Karen: thanks for your encouragement of my work in the other day's post. It means a lot that someone I don't know wants to read my work, thanks!

Latayne: I've had the Graceland album in my head ALL DAY NOW, thanks to your brief Paul Simon quote : ) Not complaining - I LOVE his way with words.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Count another Paul Simon fan.....
I don't know who said it but it applies to my writing to an infinite degree: "Everything that makes sense or catches the imagination in my writing is God. Everything that is mundane or slipshod is me."
I am constantly amazed by plot twists, conversations, themes, character development and revelation as the words pour out from the tips of my fingers. It happens even more spontaneously when I use a pen. As the words accumulate, as I watch the cursor travel back and forth I am filled with wonder. "That's not me!" I whisper and sometimes shout. "I could never have thought of that!" Sometimes I giggle helplessly in the shower or in the car or on the wilderness paths around our house as my Lord, the Author of Life shows me that day's work. And oh do I mourn for my stupidity when I allow something to prevent those ideas and words entering the computer file or note book. They leave almost as quickly as they come. He is always gracious and returns them to my mind but never with the same fevour and joy of the first inspiration.
This makes deadline writing impossible. For 9 years I have watched this story grow and the layers of glory deepen. Things I wrote 3 years ago suddenly resolve when, most times, I didn't know they needed a resolution. I fuss sometimes about sharing it with others through publication. My Author then reminds me that He is in charge, published or not it is His work. My part is the typing.

Latayne C Scott said...

Megan and Henrietta, I love your enthusiasm for the Lord's involvement in your writing!

And in my opinion, the two living musical geniuses I love are Paul Simon and Keith Lancaster of Acappella.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Latayne, have you heard of Steve Bell from Winnipeg, Canada? May I recommend a Christian musical genius?

Unknown said...

Henrietta, I did listen to snippets of songs from Steve Bell. I like his "clean" sound, especially in "Wings of an Eagle." Thank you for recommending him!