Okay, I recently had one of the biggest sermon surprises in my decades of hanging around the beautiful, broken Church of Jesus Christ.
I came to RiverCamp to hear Heidi Baker, as well as Mark Stibbe because I am interested in his message of the Father Heart of God.
But what Mark talked about was—get this—writing!!
Yes, a whole sermon on writing!! Never ever heard one before.
That evening, the preacher Trevor Baker felt God told him he was going to heal someone with secondary cancer. And there was only one person in the huge tent with that. He said, “Well, that’s okay. Sometimes the message is just for one person.”
Stibbe’s message was so apposite that it felt as if it was also just for one person. Me.
* * *
Mark Stibbe spoke of writing as a spiritual gift, an anointing. He had attended a John Wimber conference as an ordinand from Nottingham and everyone else had a spiritual experience. But he did not.
However, when, on the last day, he went up for prayer, sad and disappointed, his right hand began shaking uncontrollably.
He asked God, “So, what’s going on?” God answers, “What can you do with your right hand which you cannot do with your left?”
And Stibbe said on that day, he received an anointing to write, an anointing, which, in R T Kendall’s phrase in his book, The Anointing, “makes the difficult easy.”
Stibbe then talked about an angel of writing, who would put its great golden wings around him when he was stuck, put a quill in his hands, and say, “Write.” Some pages from his most recent book, he says, were so “anointed” that he does not remember writing them.
He prayed for an anointing on us. Said part of an anointing is seeing things no one else sees. Seeing things before you write them down.
* * *
And in the course of the next two days, through talks on other subjects, through hours of “soaking prayer,” a vision jelled, clarified and solidified which filled my heart with joy. A re-vision, really. A recovery of lost dreams.
* * *
With a rush of sadness (because of how I’ve forgotten it) and joy (because God’s gifts and calls are irrevocable) I remembered how I began writing.
As a young woman, I had wanted to leave India to study abroad, and looked at several countries, the US, NZ, Australia, aiming low–and not thinking of the UK because of the exorbitant overseas student fees.
And then suddenly, I heard God say, “Apply to Oxford.”
Me, “Okay, I’ll apply to Oxford and Cambridge.” (Roy, now my husband, was then at Cambridge.)
Inner Voice, “No, just Oxford.”
Me, “And how will I pay for it?’
I hear, “You have your pen, haven’t you?”
And poetry came in a flood. Eight poems that evening.
(And the call to writing, and the call to Oxford are somehow intertwined, but in a way I do not understand. Yet!)
Later that month, I won a national poetry writing competition for a long poem I had written in three hours.
The gift came from God.
· * * *
But oh, how I have worried it and worried about it, tried to protect it, squeeze time for it, flog it, sinned in relationships to get time and space for it, necessarily and unnecessarily sacrificed for it.
And while—oh, I could cry—all the time it was a gift!!
* * *
As I have often written in this blog, I have two deep failures in my life. One is my failure to control my weight (though I have lost 13.5 pounds, and this is a battle I am going to win when the chairos time–is right).
The other is THE book. I had the idea for it in the late-eighties. I started writing it in 1991 and continued, off and on, until 2006, though, on the way, I got distracted and wrote and published essays, book reviews, film and theatre reviews. Oh, and had babies.
Chapters of the book met with success, the $20,000 NEA award, the $6000 Minnesota State Art Boards Award, prizes for the best article in the Catholic Press, many essay prizes, have been published in “Commonweal,” “Virginia Quarterly Review” The London Magazine, and magazines like “Notre Dame Magazine,” which paid $1000 etc. I once added up what I had already made from this unfinished, unpublished book—it was $35, 000.
And, yeah, if you detect a note of insecurity in the last paragraph, you are right!! I need to keep reminding myself there was goodness in the manuscript.
* * *
I took wrong turnings. I really wanted to write a story of my Roman Catholic Childhood in India. A teacher suggested I focus on my 14 months as a novice at Mother Teresa’s Convent. A leading editor and agent were very interested. I finished the manuscript in my life-blood through my pregnancy and the first year of my baby’s life. They turned it down. And in my naivete, I thought that that was the end of the world, instead of shipping it out again.
I then wrote the whole Indian Catholic childhood; again, agents were interested but each wanted changes which I couldn’t see how to make.
I had twisted my original vision of many short topical chapters into what the industry wanted—fewer, more thematic chapters. No wonder it was hard for me to formulate it in a magnetic proposal, write it or sell it. Also, I guess I did not try hard enough it to ship it, but crumbled with each rejection.
Crumbled too soon. Focusing on publication instead of finishing it. Focused on what the publishing industry wanted instead of my original vision. And, then, believe it or not, depressed, I shelved the project
* * *
And started selling antiquarian books in 2006, when I had bought my dream house I could not afford, and put both girls in a dream school I could not afford, either. I then founded a small publishing business in 2007. Which God blessed so much that within 3 years, my husband, Roy, was able to retire early at 47.
Which means I am writing full time, and have domestic support, the lack of which depressed and bedevilled me.
But I did not take up the book of my heart, which I have always been longing to write.
Instead, on guidance from God, I took up blogging!! Which for the last 40 months has squeezed out “real” writing. But taught me a huge amount about writing.
* * *
And then, as Mark Stibbe spoke, I clearly saw that the time had come to take up writing the book again.
And I saw the form it should take. Which was, interestingly, my original vision—many short chapters of 2-3 pages each. Roughly 800-1000 words each. In other words, the length of blog posts.
I am going to re-write the entire book, which is going to be so much easier than revising my original version. My style has changed over 40 months of blogging. It is less mandarin, less literary, less poetic, but easier to read. And to write!!
It will be too hard to revise the old manuscript. “Style is the man.” Or woman. It reflects your thinking and sensibility. When you change, your style changes. When you deliberately simplify your style and make it transparent, as one needs to in a blog, you also start thinking in shorter, lucid sentences and paragraphs.
Attempting to revise the old manuscript will be like revising someone else’s manuscript. I am a different woman now.
On the other hand, since much of the work of memory, writing and organizing into chapters is done, rewriting will be relatively easy. And very easy compared to writing it in the first place when I had masses and masses of notes and memories.
* * *
I am going to post chapters from the memoir on my blog as I write them.
I will plan to write 400-500 words of my book each day, posting each finished chapter on my blog as it’s done. 300 pages of 400 words each. 120,000 words. A page a day. And will be done with the book by September 1st, 2014, so help me God.
And that is not an over-ambitious goal because A) the book is written. It just has to be rewritten into an easier and less mandarin style. B) I have been writing 800-1000 word blog posts every day for 40 months, and writing has now become quick and easy.
* * *
And I am so grateful to God for restoring my vision and enthusiasm for finishing my book at just the right time, the chairos time.
(Revised and edited, 31st August, 2013)