Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bridge of Words

One of my favorite books for contemplation is Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle. When I'm working, I tend to focus downward and inward - at my keyboard, my notes, my reference books, my experiences. Her thoughts draw my sight upward and outward, beyond my narrow boundaries. I am especially encouraged to know that after she was published, she experienced periods of disillusionment and rejection. These two bad boys can be paralyzing to creativity. They are a normal part of the process we all go through in our writing. So what is it that drives us to keep going when we encounter them? Ms. L'Engle would say that part of the driving force is the desire to communicate. All artists want to communicate, be they writers, painters, sculptors or composers. We want our works to be seen, read, heard and experienced to have life breathed into them.

"Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been stillborn." She goes on to affirm the vast importance of the reader, that without readers our stories will never truly live. Contrary to watching TV, where we are a passive audience, the reader partners as creator with the written word - imagining, hearing, and visualizing the story. "The author and the reader 'know' each other; they meet on the bridge of words."

The tangible elements of story such as a character's physical description, the way his shoes pinch, or the scent of flowers at his father's funeral are easier to communicate than his character and motives. He may not always react in expected ways. If we are careless or fail to communicate how we feel about these things, we break that tenuous bond between creators. It is imperative that we work diligently to perfect our art in order that the message is clear, yet winsome and not heavy-handed or contrived. The bridges we build lead to more than an afternoon's distraction. They serve an eternal, life-giving purpose.

In another quote, she states, "Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories." When Jesus told parables, the masses (as 'reader-hearers') became creators, too. Jesus was able to communicate great truths by meeting them on the bridge of words. In actively listening and visualizing, they took steps toward him to cross the bridge. When we partner with Christ to share his truths through story, he empowers us. We become bridge builders.

God chooses to use us to communicate through art to people who are willing to meet us on the bridge. Who are we to be chosen, we may ask? I leave you with one last quote:
"In a very real sense not one of us is qualified...If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own."

Do you think of yourself as a bridge-builder and how does that impact your writing and ability to meet discouragement?


Patti Hill said...

Debbie! I so needed to be reminded of this today. Thank you for reminding me about the "bridge of words." I'm encouraged.

Can you repost tomorrow? And the next day.


Latayne C Scott said...

Debbie, at the end of your post you brought up the issue of humility -- a natural consequence of seeing the enormous and (by us) unbridgeable gulf between us and God.

One great consequence of the dry periods in our lives is that they give us opportunity to correctly assess our roles in creativity -- as recipients of it, not as generators of it.

Thank you for an excellent post!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Patti and Latayne. When I pray for guidance for a post, God always gives me what I need to hear myself. It is amazing what we're entrusted with. Many people read manuscripts before/when/whether or not they are published and God uses them, doesn't He?

Patti Hill said...


Marian said...

"It is imperative that we work diligently to perfect our art in order that the message is clear, yet winsome and not heavy-handed or contrived."

I'm writing that down and putting it on the wall above my computer. Thanks.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Marian. I need to do the same!

Megan Sayer said...

This is so true. I love the concept of the bridge between the author and the reader.

When I was 16 I was so determined to win over the literary establishment with the beauty of my words (ha!). In recent years though, and even in recent days, God has been telling me that the bridge I'm building is to readers, with not words as much as story.

BTW Latayne I love your last sentence here as well.

Sharon said...

I write non fiction, but "meeting on the bridge" and each of the wise reminders are going to be posted where I will see them regularly for a while.

It doesn't matter what you are writing with God. The reader has to be someone you love and respect. You are reaching to collaborate with him for his engagement with the thing God is bringing to Him. You are a servant.

These were good words.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thank you, Megan, and Sharon, yes we need to be reminded that we are servants.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

The ecstasy of the meeting is enough to keep my on the bridge. I do long to communicate to a responder, a reader who joins in the creation. God will supply in His good time.