In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being … And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1:1-3a, 14a)
What does it mean to both me and my reader not only that I was born into a Christian missionary family, but also that I’ve consciously and deliberately chosen to live out my life as a person of faith? How does that shape what I write?
First of all, I don’t think I’m all that different from most children’s writers I know. All of us, who are serious about what we do, write out of our own deepest selves. We don’t poke religious convictions or humanistic philosophy or moral messages into a story to be pulled out by the reader like plums from Jack Horner’s Christmas pie. Because our stories come from deep inside, our books will reveal, willy-nilly, who we really are. As C. S. Lewis once said, “The book cannot be what the writer is not.”
It is your privilege as a reader to decide who you think I am, but now I will try to say who I think I am, and I see myself as a person who believes God is there, and that the creator of all things is, as the Bible declares, the God of justice and steadfast love. And yes, I do believe in moral values, which is one reason I have rejoiced at the commitment services and marriages of gay friends and, yes, I am wholeheartedly for life … I pray that I will not be one of those who steps on life – any person’s life. I want my morality to be defined not in negatives, but in positives. I want to be, in the words of the Anglican priest Martin Smith, a co-creator with God.
What, exactly, does that mean for my life as a writer for the young? In the Genesis story as Smith reminds us, God creates by speech. And it is by language that we humans, created in God’s image, make meaning. “We give voice to the images and metaphors,” Smith says, “and the chaos that surrounds us gives way to narrative, to a story.”
Not long ago I was asked to speak to a group of public-school teachers who would be taking their classes to see a production of the play Bridge to Terabithia… There was the usual time of questions, at the end of which a young male teacher thanked me for my time, then said: “But I want to take something special back to my class. Can you give me some word to take back to them?”
I was momentarily silenced. After all I had been talking continuously for nearly an hour and a half; surely he could pick out from that outpouring a word or two to take home to his students. Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut long enough to realise what I ought to say —
“I’m very biblically oriented,” I said, “and so for me the most important thing is for the word to become flesh. I can write stories for children and young people, and in that sense I can offer them words, but you are the word become flesh in your classroom. Society has taught our children that they are nobodies unless their faces appear on television. But by your caring, by your showing them how important each one of them is, you become the word that I would like to share with each of them. You are that word become flesh.” …
If you ask me what message a book of mine contains, I’ll get testy, but that doesn’t mean I have nothing I want to say to my readers. What I hope to say to isolated, angry, fearful youth — to all the children who feel that their lives are worthless in the eyes of the world is: you are seen, you are not alone, you are not despised, you are unique and of infinite value in the human family. As a writer, I can try to offer children a chance to make sense of their own lives through the words of a story but I can’t stop there, thinking that my task is done. Nor, I dare say, can you. It is up to each of us not simply to write the words, but to be a word of hope made flesh. Ω
Reflect: Where are you called to be hope made flesh? Pray about it, asking God to show you how to be, and what to do.
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.
From Katherine Paterson, from ‘Are you there, God?’. The Best American Spiritual Writing 2006. Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006, p 200-210. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.
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