Monday, July 25, 2011

Writing that transfuses blood

In a used bookstore I picked up a copy of Frederich Buechner's Listening to Your Life, a compilation of selections from his books arranged for daily reading. Sixty-five cents, the tag said. Why not? I have enjoyed Buechner's books in the past, especially The Hungering Dark.

His idea of good writing is to stick a pen into a vein and start writing. Passionate, life-giving writing is fueled by blood. I have sometimes told would-be writers to think of writing as wearing your heart on your sleeve for all to see what makes it tick. That kind of writing hits home.

Buechner mentions writers like Flannery O'Connor (The Artificial Nigger), John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory as some of the stories and books that put new blood in his veins.

Most people remember real blood transfusions -- IV in the arm, bag of blood suspended above, nurse in attendance looking worried. They also remember immediate return to strength. Renewed vigor. Readiness to take on life once again.

I have only had one in-the-arm blood transfusion, but many through the words of others. I mention only a few:

I encountered the writing of A.W. Tozer in the 1960s: Of God and Men, Born After Midnight, The Pursuit of God. I gulped his words into my soul. They were balm to my spirit after years of reading abstract, vague writing about the Christian life that wandered all over the place and never hit home. I wanted to write like Tozer -- clear, precise, to the point, hard-hitting.

I remember also Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok. Young Davita prays in the synagogue near a gap in the curtain separating men from women. Here and there, in the women's section other women say "Amen" to her words. She opened a way for them --and for me. I needed to speak up. I did and wrote about women's concerns near a gap in the curtain of the church. I heard other women say "Amen" to my words again and again. It fueled my writing.

I cling to Steinbeck's East of Eden, certain passages much marked. The Chinese servant Lee tell the twin Cal that he always has a choice--the glory of being a human being. Just like Cain, his counterpart in the Old Testament, had a choice not to kill his brother Abel, he has a choice to forgive. The key phrase is "Thou mayest..." A choice to kill -- or not. A choice to forgive -- or not.

Steinbeck had a great love for the "glittering instrument, the human soul--always attacked and never destroyed" because it has free will.

The last book I will mention in this blog is Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory about a pathetic little whiskey priest in Mexico who comes to a new understanding of what it means to be a dispenser of God's grace. It helped me understand the Apostle Paul's words about grace.

Novelist Thomas Wolfe once described writing as putting a piece of paper in the typewriter and starting to bleed. That kind of writing reveals truth and brings life-giving blood to readers. My son James encourages me to blog -- and bleed, both a painful and life-giving exercise.

I need to remind myself of that, even as I write this blog.

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