(The) Writing Life
Hard to believe, but Peter Mead and I are nearing a decade of leading Concordia Seminary’s annual Faith & Writing Workshop. The three-day event arose to replace the discontinued Writing for the Church event hosted by Concordia Publishing House for many years.
Despite the wet-hot heat made famous by St. Louis summers, we always look forward to those three days at the end of July (in air-conditioned Wyneken 101). It never fails to bring together a wide range of people who, for whatever reason, have words they want to put to paper. From published writers looking to hone their skill to novices looking for a first inspiration. From young to old. From lay people to church workers. Always a hearty mix of women and men sharing in the thrill of words well crafted.
But there is one specific thing that the workshop has taught me about pastors, of which I am one. We often don’t think of it this way, but the pastor’s life is a writing life. Writing a sermon. Drafting a Bible study. Composing a newsletter blurb. Editing (to death) a Facebook post. Crunching a blog. If pastors would sit down to calculate the hours, they might be astonished at the number they spend before a blank page or blinking cursor tapping letters into words into sentences into paragraphs into life. Pastors are writers. The same goes for virtually all church workers: deaconesses, DCEs, ministers of music, ad infinitum.
Peter and I have seen a growing number of pastors and church workers take part in the workshop simply as a way to inject new life and creativity into all the ways they work with words. The results are consistently amazing, to see the creativity flow forth from people who didn’t know they had it in them.
This lesson goes hand in hand with a conviction that applies to anyone who works with words. The conviction involves dispelling a myth. We spend some time in the workshop dispelling the debilitating myth that the act of writing involves sitting alone in a quiet room or under a tree awaiting the muse to come down from on high to inspire the would-be writer into a trance of creativity that spills forth into a perfectly beautiful soliloquy of daydreams and paradise lost. I guess it is possible that that happens, but it is exceedingly rare.
Writing does require space and some kind of solitude, but the fact is that writing never really comes out of nowhere or from nothing. The act of creative writing is not creatio ex nihilo. Good writers are good readers. We write from words to words. We write from the sum total of language we have experienced up to the present moment. And we write with a hope that our words will somehow amplify or enlarge or extend the power of the words we have received.
This is good news because it means you don’t have to be Shakespeare to do it. Writing is a craft that can be learned.
This conviction is particularly poignant for people whose faith is scriptural, who trust in a Word made flesh. And it is even more poignant for professional workers in this faith who spend a good deal of their working day with their eyes and ears fixed on the written word that is the source of our faith. We spend a good deal of time in the workshop talking about—and practicing!—the processes that allow us to work creatively with the creative word we find in the scriptures…and the vast treasure of creative words already written about this creative word: words of loss and redemption, tragedy and comedy, death and life.
Suffice it to say, this writing life—in all its many forms, including the fifteen or so we encounter every year—is sheer joy.
The good news is there is always room at the table for more. Join us. This year’s Faith & Writing Workshop takes place July 25-27, 2017.