Orthodox Writers, Readers, and Artists: Lynette Smith

I was a closet writer for thirty or so years. I can count the few times over those years that I pulled my material out of seclusion and offered it to select people. What I dared to have printed for a larger audience remained anonymous. But finally at age 50, I published my first book.

Although in my early twenties I had every intention to write for publication, over the years, reasons piled up to keep me in the closet. They seriously impacted the confidence and fortitude it takes to expose one’s thoughts to possible rejection. “You can’t,” eggs some people on, and they burst those bonds with Samson-like determination. For others of us, however, the accumulation of difficulties and fear can entangle our talents and bind them in dark musty corners.

Yet, as fans of the Narnian chronicles know, a shadowed closet may germinate new worlds out of impediments. God’s economy wastes nothing; so the decades that passed granted me experience. I pondered questions of fate and faith and wrangled with my Lord. I tried to let the years teach me, scribbling sporadically about the journey.

After converting to the Orthodox Church, the writings of her elders—ancient and contemporary—plunged me into further dimensions to ponder. This, combined with the practice of sacramental Christianity lived on the ground, began to fill me up with words needing outlet. An increase of ardor for the quest of God now contended strongly against the old accumulation of difficulties and fear.

Technology provided the forum to move out of the shadows a little, test my courage and let my meditations breathe into the common air. And so “Lynette Smith’s Lagan,” a blogsite of essays, was born. After a couple of years of blogging, key people in my life—especially my spiritual father—encouraged me to rework these essays into a book. Would it become published? I didn’t dare beleaguer the question lest it drive me back into the closet.

The time came when the book seemed finished, and simultaneously an opportunity for publication seemed to arise. Then all came to a stand-still. I began to wonder if I should just shelve the project. Depression snaked itself around my budding confidence.

Mercifully, one day I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis to his friend, Arthur Greeve, who was anxious about the slow progress of his writing career. What he wrote broke me loose. “It is not your business to succeed, but to do right: when you have done so, the rest lies with God.”

Patrons and publishers do or don’t do whatever they choose. I was the only person I could compel into motion. It was my job only to put forth my writing, not to force or control the outcome. Probably more than half my life was over; what did I have to lose? At the very least I would someday hold up a manuscript and publisher rejection slips before the Judge of all and say, “Lord, I managed to put it out there. Here’s proof that I did not let fear forever bury the talent you gave me.” In the end, a publishing contract came about.

I don’t kid myself that I’ll always get published if I simply “do what is right.” What matters is that I continue to offer what I can as God enables me.

Lynette Smith lives near Denver, Colorado with her husband and cat. She grew up on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, and as a young adult assisted missionaries in Southeast Asia. She converted to the Orthodox Christian Church in the middle of getting her Masters in Biblical Studies at Denver Seminary. She and her husband attend St. Columba Orthodox Church, a Western Rite parish under the Antiochian jurisdiction. She has taught Bible studies in both Protestant and Orthodox churches, been guest speaker at Orthodox retreats, and currently serves as chanter in her home parish. You can learn about her book, “Voyage: A Quest for God Within Christian Tradition,” at www.lynetteasmith.com. The book is available through Regina Orthodox Press, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.

Orthodox Writers and Readers Series: Fr. Lawrence Farley

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.