Monthly Archives: February 2017

Pursue Beauty

John Keats wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all we know on earth and all we need to know.”

Ranier Maria Rilke argues in “The First Elegy”:

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.”

When Soren Kierkegaard defines “dread” as the apprehension of the possibilities freedom offers, I believe he tells us why, as Rilke contends, every angel is terrifying. To Kierkegaard, “This dread is the dizziness of freedom which occurs when the spirit would posit the synthesis [the uniting of body and soul], and gazes down into its own possibility, grasping at finiteness to sustain itself.”

Angels terrify us and the dizziness of dread makes us flee from them, because they are reflections of God. The Old Testament holds that if we saw God we would surely die. Because God is more beautiful than he created us to bear. So he gave Christ, his appearance softened by his humanity, as our standard of truth and beauty.

Yet beauty doesn’t only reside in the divine and the good. Beauty also resides in great sinners, in blinding terror, in death, all kinds of darkness, wonder, and tragedy. It resides in all the places we dizzy writers are sometimes obliged to go, if we hope to write the truth.

From Writing and the Spirit.  To read the whole book …

Happy Endings

Lots of us pray the Lord’s prayer fairly regularly, thereby requesting that, “Your will be done.”

Recently I heard a pastor quote a Christian writer’s prediction that anyone who can pray with perfect sincerity for God’s will to be done is guaranteed eternity in heaven.

Regardless of what we believe about salvation, weighing our sincerity in light of that comment could be a valuable tool for self-discovery. So I asked myself: can I, in perfect sincerity, pray for God’s will to be done? That would mean I could be okay with God’s will even if it included my getting melanoma, dying in a month, and leaving my fourteen-year-old Zoe to face a tough world without my help. And it would give my approval even if God’s will included my family dying by torture.

Not likely.

Remember Abraham and how God told him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice? I’ve heard preachers argue that Abe was okay with following instructions because he knew God would surely intercede and stop the sacrifice.

Phooey.

That view of Abraham may be in accord with prosperity gospels. But why then is Abraham regarded throughout the Bible as an example of faithfulness. If he felt so sure God was only testing him and wouldn’t let him go through with the act, his faithfulness was no big deal.

Here’s another take on Abraham, from Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”:

God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son.”
Abe said “Man, you must be putting me on.”
God say, “No.”
Abe say “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but,
the next time you see me coming you’d better run.”

I suspect Mr. Dylan, rather than advocating that view, was poking fun at an attitude common amongst fundamentalists. I taught at a fundamentalist college where the dean of the seminary convinced even some bright students that to achieve salvation, we needed to believe correct dogma.

Double phooey.

Here’s yet another view of Abraham, this one promoted by 19th century thinker Soren Kierkegaard:

Abe, whom Kierkegaard regarded as the Knight of Faith, wasn’t any more convinced that God would relieve him of the call to sacrifice than Jesus was convinced he wouldn’t actually get crucified. Rather, Abraham, like Jesus, simply believed that whatever God asked of him, he would do.

Because God asked.

Period.

After all, to refuse would be as ridiculous as if my brain told my hands to swing at a pitch and my hands on their own decided not to. Because Kierkegaard was a brilliant philosopher, I’ll call this perspective a philosopher’s view of Abraham.

Christian writers, especially those who target Christian readers, had better decide whether they trust (a) the prosperity view, (b) the fundamentalist view, or (c) the philosopher’s view.

Because the ending to most every story will imply one of the three.

Suppose you hold to (b) and yet you write a romance novel in which the hero and heroine live happily ever after. Might you be promoting (a)? And if so, aren’t you lying?

I don’t mean to accuse or condemn, but to suggest we writers question whether our stories are true to our beliefs.

Because writing is a sacred vocation, we should worry about the fate of writers who willingly lie for bucks or for the pride of publication.

A couple novels I enthusiastically recommend that deliver view c (philosopher’s view) endings are Midheaven and Newport Ave.