Image: Tash and Aslan
When I was twenty-something, young and ambitious, I read this statement by Willa Cather, The God of Art demands human sacrifices.
“Okay, then,” I said, understanding that achieving mastery, artistry, would take a total commitment.
For these were the kind of statements which I heard in my Creative Writing masters and doctoral program: The artist’s life is the triumph of sacrifice, said the critic, Helen Vendler. The magisterial Henry James wrote, “If one would do the best he can with his pen, there is one word he must inscribe on his banner, and that word is solitude.
Mad, wasn’t it, that the ideal of writing well so consumed me, and consume me it did. I worked with a top editor from Harper and Row, Ted Solataroff, and caught the interest of a top agent, Virginia Barber in my early thirties. I completed the first draft of a manuscript through my first pregnancy, and the first year of my baby’s life. When it was turned down in 1995, I remember lying face down on the floor, and saying to myself, “I want to die.” That was only time I have ever felt like that.
However, I submitted the best chapters for an NEA award, only 30 of which were given annually then. And it won–a fat cheque of $20,000. And I got invitations to writers’ colonies, The Vermont Studio Centre, and The Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts. Where the visiting writers said I should shrink the first manuscript (about working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta down to 50-60 pages from 200+) and instead write a memoir of a Catholic childhood in India. Which I did, and then, as I’ve written here, balked again at agent/editor requests for changes, and took a break from writing.
* * *
And it took that break for that all-consuming idol of writing to die. It used to be the biggest barrier in my spiritual life: that fact that what I wanted more than anything was to write.
It’s still the case. I have a very simple bucket list of things I definitely want to do (as opposed to be) before I die. It has just one thing on it. Just one. I want to write. That’s it.
* * *
But more important than that, far more important is that I want to know Christ. I want to dwell in Christ. I want to be subsumed in Christ. I want Christ to dwell in me, every part of me, the writer part, as well as the rest of me.
The writer part of me is now subsumed in the Christ-lover and Christ-follower. It is not a little rebel part of me that stands outside apart, arms crossed, scowling at the totality of devotion Christ demands. I write because that is the vocation given to me, part of my Christian discipleship. And how long I took to arrive at this point!
In fact, I write partly through Christ’s energy and inspiration. Before, writing felt like running off and doing my own pleasurable thing, when I felt the Christian thing might have been housework, or something dreary like that.
How long it has taken me to come to this point, to rely on God’s power and inspiration to write, to feel that my writing is in the force field of God’s presence, power and blessing, and is flowing with God’s purposes for me (and my readers) rather than a guilty self-indulgence.
And now, writing is joy, instead of guilt and conflict. God has mercifully cleared the plate for me to write, as my sweet, husband, Roy, has agreed to stay home and run our home, lives, children and business, so that I can have the day clear to write. Getting back into creative work is not easy after the 4-5 year break from reading and writing that I took to establish the business, but I am gradually doing it. It is the right time. Before I felt I was grabbing time to write. Now, it is given to me.
He who loves his writing more than me is not worthy of me. He who loves his blog more than me is not worthy of me. I used to read Matthew 10:37 etc. and sadly say to myself: Well, I am not worthy. Well, I am still not, of course, but at least, I can say truthfully that, as far as I know, I no longer love my writing or anything else more than Christ.
* * *
In The Last Battle, Lewis points out the relentlessness of anything we worship except Christ. The ass who pretends to be Aslan demands more and more including the squirrels’ precious winter hoard of nuts. His demands will never be satisfied, just as the demands of anything we set up in the place of Christ will never be satisfied–a business, a career, sex, amazing children, money, fame, success…
* * *
Our spirits are eternal things. Infinite in that they will live forever. (Also infinite in that there has been no proven limit to man’s capacity to learn, to memorize, to invent or create.)
As such, only the infinite will satisfy our thirst. Only God will satisfy our thirst.
* * *
The secular writer David Forster Wallace writes brilliantly on this. Anything except God that you you worship will eat you alive, he says. He continues,
And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it Jesus Christ or Allah, be it YHWH or the Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.
Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally kill you.
On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.
* * *
I truly don’t want to love anything more than Christ. And if I do, Lord, quickly set flame to it.
Because you alone can satisfy my soul as with the richest of food.
And because as C.S. Lewis says, “Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.”