Further Thoughts on the Art of Writing

In my last blog I explained why I care whether my blogs are read. In summary, I pointed out that a blog is different from a diary. If I were writing for myself, I would be writing a diary, and I would have no inclination or need to publish it. Writing for publication, being an art, is a form of communication. When I write for publication, I am trying to open a stream of communication. If no one reads what I write, then there can be no communication, and the artistic effort remains incomplete.

This time I want to amplify that observation a bit. I want to bring some theological thinking into the discussion. Central to Feminist theology is the idea of the sacredness of the ordinary and the primacy of relationship. Central to Martin Buber’s thinking is what he called the I-Thou relationship, the notion that religion begins when one moves away from thinking of others as things out there on the other side of the skin and begins experiencing others as in holy relationship to oneself. In the Dhammapada, The Buddha is quoted as saying, “See yourself in others. Then whom can you harm?” He is asserting the essential unity of all things. The idea of ubuntu, the idea that we cannot become human except in relationship to others, is at the core of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s personal theology.

I could go on with this, but I think the point is made. Relationship, intimate, powerful and holy relationship, is the common nucleus about which religions, both public and private, revolve. It is out of this relationship that we discover the sacred depth of existence and are able to transcend the terrible aloneness that only seems to condemn us to eternal isolation behind our skins. It is through entering this relationship that we overcome separation and become whole within creation. As they say in Zen, not-two and yet two. To grasp to your heart this is to become enlightened.

Now, what has that to do with art in general and writing in particular? James Joyce set great store by what he called “aesthetic arrest”, the experience of being grabbed and held by a work of art. It happens when you suddenly see a painting and cannot move from the spot, as if your very soul were glued to it. Or when the audience at a concert simply disappears and you are as if alone with the music, held and nurtured and whole. Or when you read something and what you read reaches beyond the pages, beyond the words, beyond even the space between the words, and holds you to the page. You read it over and over. You put the book down and the words vibrate in your mind like a bell sounding along the corridors of your heart. It is in these experiences that we enter the depths of art. This is when art reveals our Self to our self.

Aesthetic arrest, then, is a form of mystical, religious experience. It happens when the artist reveals their soul to the audience and the audience receives it within their soul, and therefore the act of artistic creation is a religious act. It is the artistic version of an I-Thou relationship. The mystery of art is that this can happen even though the artist is long dead. (I use the word “mystery” here to mean that before which the only appropriate response is awe)

When I write for publication. I want to open a conversation. Now, the word “conversation” is very interesting. It comes from a Proto-Indo-European root that means “to turn toward”. When we are in conversation, genuine conversation, we must turn toward one another. This turning is not simply a turning of our bodies. It is a turning of ourselves, of our whole selves, toward one another. True conversation is about the speech of one heart with another. True conversation is akin to aesthetic arrest.

This form of conversation is not easy. It can disturb the soul. In fact, it should disturb the soul because it is in conversation with another that we discover that the Self in me is the same as the Self in thee. This knowledge is the essence of Divine Love, Agapē, and that discovery is always life-changing. Sometimes the change is huge and sometimes it is not, but an encounter with Divine Love cannot leave one unchanged.

So, yes, I do care whether or not my published work is read. And I do care whether I am able actually to publish what I write for others to read. At this level, writing is, for me, an act of religious art, and for that act to be complete requires that there be an other with whom I am in true conversation. And how can I have a conversation alone in the loneliness of my study?

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4 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on the Art of Writing

  1. Marilee Mouser

    Ken, we learned a great deal from you and USSB. When Elizabeth visited Sunday, she said she felt quite overwhelmed, emotional. So many people we knew and loved were there and they generously shared their memories and love. We haven’t found that kind of community here, but I also have not made much of an effort to find it. When any amount of physical activity leaves you exhausted, you tend to stop making that effort. But then something happens and you have no choice but to look for work. I am quite excited that soon we will be forging relationships in a new church body, transcending the aloneness that began as my way to avoid pain but came to be our reality, as a family. Sunday at USSB, Elizabeth remembered how relationship feels: intimate, powerful, loving, and holy relationship. I hope that we will feel this in our new church home, and I thank you for writing this, for reminding us that we do want to live in relationship.

    Reply
  2. Deborah Hughes

    Your words,fell on my mind like a pleasant and meaningful waterfall. I also remember how the power of your actual voice and presence in the pulpit added yet another dimension to your message.

    Reply

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