If All Writing is Indeed Autobiographical, then it follows . . .

In my email box today I received this wonderful reminder by Frederick Buechner.

It is a nice application to yesterday’s post.

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I DISCOVERED THAT IF you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

– Originally published in Now and Then

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If the premise is true, that all writing is autobiographical, then Buechner’s exhortation to “listen to your life” naturally follows. And on its heels, this . . . The better we listen to our lives, the better our writing will be. The more honest it will be. The more authentic it will be. And the more of a chance it will have to connect to the reader’s life.

But listening like this doesn’t come naturally, at least to most of us.

Keeping a journal helps.

The idea of keeping a journal has for me always had a nagging, “you’ve-got-to-do-it-every-day” tone to it.  To keep one at all, I’ve had to slip off the stiff shirt of that routine and slip into something with a little looser fit, allowing me to skip a few days here, a week there.  But although that felt more comfortable, it didn’t stop the nagging, which changed from “you’ve-got-to-do-it-every-day” to “you-need-to-catch-up.”

More often than not, instead of keeping a journal, the journal kept me.  Kept me feeling guilty mostly.  My feelings changed, though, when instead of serving the journal, I used the journal to serve me.  I kept it close to me but not chained to me.  I wrote in it, not because I felt there was something I was supposed to say but because I felt there was something I was supposed to hear. 

Sometimes what I heard was whispered, other times it was shouted.  Sometimes it was a word, an image, or simply an impression.  Sometimes the message was clear, other times it wasn’t.  As I started jotting down those moments, I began sensing that through some of those moments God was speaking.

In his autobiographical book, The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner writes:  “If God speaks to us at all in this world, if God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks.  Someone we love dies, say.  Some unforeseen act of kindness or cruelty touches the heart or makes the blood run cold.  We fail a friend, or a friend fails us, and we are appalled at the capacity we all of us have for estranging the very people in our lives we need the most.  Or maybe nothing extraordinary happens at all—just one day following another, helter-skelter, in the manner of days.  We sleep and dream.  We wake.  We work.  We remember and forget.  And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments of even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks.”

Before we can hear God speaking through the everyday moments of our lives, our heart has to be prepared to listen. That preparation involves several things. 

First—and this seems to go without saying but I’ll say it anyway—there must be a sense of anticipation that God wants to speak to us and that He will speak.  This anticipation stems from the belief that God is love and that it is the nature of love to express itself.  The form of that expression, though, is remarkably varied.  Sometimes love is expressed through words.  Other times it is expressed through pictures or gestures or a variety of other ways, often very subtle ways that only the beloved might recognize.  That is the nature of intimate communication.  It is clear to the beloved but often obscure to everyone else. 

Second, there must be a humility of heart, for where we are willing to look and what we are willing to hear will largely determine how many of those moments we will catch.  This posture of the heart stems from a belief that words from God characteristically come swaddled in the most lowly of appearances, and that if we’re not willing to stoop, we’ll likely miss God among the stench of the stable and the sweetness of the straw.

Third, there must be a responsiveness to what is heard.  A willingness to follow where we are being led, wherever that may be.  A readiness to admit where we are wrong and to align ourselves with what is right and good and true.  An eagerness to enter into the joy of the moment.  Or into the sorrow of the moment, if that’s the case.  It is this responsiveness of the heart that makes us most susceptible to the grace of the moment.  And it is what prepares us to receive whatever grace is offered to us in the next.

If this is true, then it follows with almost syllogistic logic that there are no ordinary moments, no moments we can dismiss, none that are unworthy of our attention.

And it is because of this that Buechner can say: “All moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

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