Writers are not like eggs in a carton, each one identical and interchangeable, the same inside and out. They are more like snowflakes in the sky, no two of them the same. We are each one of us very different from the other.
Take for example Melinda, the author of this blog. Reading on her blog about her writing life, she seems to be a Watcher, someone who stares with a child’s wonder at the wide world around her, watching every raised eyebrow, every subtle gesture, every misapplied make-up stroke, and then strives to make artistic sense of it all. (As a child of the sixties, I think she would make a great spy: Melinda Johnson, the Writer from U.N.C.L.E.) I, however, am not as keen an observer of God’s world. I am not so much a Watcher as a Preacher. Don’t get me wrong. I like watching people (with the exception of daytime television). But ever since my conversion to Christ through the Jesus People movement, I have been seized (some would say “afflicted”) with a desire to preach.
Early on in that movement, I learned about the power of God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, and this has left its mark on me. (I could’ve learned it from the Orthodox Church back then too, I suppose, but it kept itself pretty invisible, as if as well as wearing a phelon, each priest also wore Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility.) And being marked by the Holy Scriptures, I needed to keep delving deeper into them. It was like an addiction, except that it led to freedom, not bondage, and I had no desire to recover. I still suffer from the addiction, so that every year at Orthodox Writers Week in Rockaway Beach, Oregon, I drag down there a suitcase full of Bible commentaries and Greek and Hebrew interlinears, and spend the week reading, chewing, pondering, and then putting the results into the margins of my Bible. It means that each evening I have nothing to share with the assembled group, but I have fun, and they are very understanding. Such addictions are not totally fruitless however. Conciliar Press has published ten of my New Testament commentaries so far, the so-called “Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series”. (Note: this is a plug.)
Writing then, for me, is like preaching, except that I use my keyboard, not my voice. (It also means that I can polish it up some, and erase and redo any verbal missteps, which luxury I am not allowed in a homily.) My experience of producing words feels like what is described in Jer. 20:9: “If I say I will not speak any more in His Name, there is in my heart a burning fire, shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in.” For me, reading the Word produces this fire in my bones, and the result has to come forth from my mouth—or my keyboard. The challenge as a writer or preacher is to reproduce in others the same excitement I experience when reading the Scriptures; my goal, to be a clear conduit for the power of the Word. People don’t need to hear from Fr.
Lawrence (they can get their podvigs elsewhere)—they need to hear from God. Like Jeremiah and every preacher throughout the centuries, my task is simply faithful transmission of what I have heard.
It is not automatic, or easy, and sometimes I mess it up, so that people hear more of Fr. Lawrence and less of God than I would like them to. This is where the so-called “creative writing process” comes in. For me, this involves seeking God, usually while taking a long walk. Having absorbed the Scriptures, I start a process of pondering and chewing, a kind of inner groping after what God would have me say, rather like feeling your way in your own home in the middle of the night when the lights are out. When I have found it, that’s when I hit the keyboard.
C.S. Lewis once described the process of writing as being “in book” (i.e., like being in labour), and compared book-writing to childbirth. I appreciate the comparison. Finishing a written piece, or a sermon, brings a certain relief. But the preacher’s addiction to the Word is a strong one, and soon enough I find myself back at it again.
Fr. Lawrence is the pastor of St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church, in Langley, B.C., Canada. He is the author of a number of New Testament commentaries and a commentary on the Divine Liturgy, published by Conciliar Press, and an number of Akathists, published by Alexander Press. He lives in Surrey, B.C. with his beautiful wife Donna (who is also a published writer), two daughters, one son-in-law, two grandchildren, and one beloved but useless cat.