Last year I wrote a piece talking about the benefit of writing, in particular reflecting upon the opening of John's Gospel and how our own words might become like little christs, imparting his grace to others, not in the same way as Christ, but as a smaller imitation of the love that he has for us.
But this time I want to be a bit more introspective, to consider the personal values that writing has, and the way it can contribute to one's own personal spiritual formation. I say this as somebody who has written many boring things in my life: A tonne of uni essays, a thesis (nearly two) and endless notebooks full of individual sentences, abortive stories, one nice short story, and bad poetry.
When I talk about writing I mean all the writing you can think off, whether they be good, bad, boring, long, short, right, wrong, crooked, upside down and so on and so forth.
Writing is such a valuable thing for us to do, no matter our faith or belief. In terms of understanding ourselves, it is like being able to watch a long home video of your own development. Horace, a Roman satirist, ode writer and literary critic, famously wrote that poetry is like painting. He said that a poet has the same ability as a painter to externalise a thing, to make real an image, or a shadow. We also have that, regardless of how good our writing is. We can always, in this way, externalise our lives so as to gain some objectivity upon ourselves. In this way we can learn to better understand and live with ourselves, to feel more comfortable in our own skin.
In today's age of information bombardment, fleeting pleasures and fast frame rates, the slow development of our own identity is always impinged upon by a world which would seek to create us into its own image. Being able to see yourself through your own words will make you able to shape yourself, rather than be shaped by the world.
Even more so for the Christian. Paul wrote in Romans that we ought to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's." (Romans 12 verse 2). We are not to be conformed to this world, but to the image of Christ. Now there are numerous ways one can do this; ostensibly by knowing the scriptures and so on.
But, I think that the self-discipline of writing should be another one. There are numerous things that one can right, you could write prayers, poems, confessions, ideas or anything. But, as I mentioned above, the main point is the externalisation of your soul, as it were. This way you can look at yourself on a page, and consider your own place in the world, where you can clearly see the influences the world has upon you, the influences that Christ has upon you, and the possibilities of change within yourself.
To continue in this way is hard. Maybe for some of you it would be apropos to consider writing for a website such as this, as the external system of deadlines etc. keep you in line. For others making your writing available for public consumption could be daunting, in that case a personal notebook is always handy. I like to get well adorned notebooks that look good on bookshelves for this purpose, but small ones so that I can easily fill up a page (never underestimate the gratification one can receive from a full page!). For others a blog, for others a whiteboard. Whatever you feel is best, will be best, but just do it!
Finally, a point about editing. There are two kinds of editing. The first is grammatical. It's not always important, unless you want people to think well of you in a public forum (like this one!). But there is another kind of editing, and this one is the one that we can all benefit from. This is the editing that comes along much later, as we reread our old selves, and edit them appropriately, we can see that we ourselves are changing, and thus the editing of the page becomes the editing of the self. A kind of chiselling that conforms us more and more into the shape of Christ.
So, as I started... write!
First published December 5, 2014
Dale Wang (24) is writing a MA thesis in Classical Studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch while making slightly passable coffee at Starbucks. He has been heavily involved in the Christian Union on campus, being their communications officer and leading bible studies.
Dale Wang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dale-wang.html