"I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it." --Jer 20:9
[Part of the readings from the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, A]
This verse from Jeremiah has always struck me as particularly resonant with my own experience of faith and writing. I once took these words as like a mission statement for one of my first (failed) blogs. As you can see, here I am, at it again. This experience of trying to lay down what needs to be picked up is a stunning glimpse into the broken dynamic for human happiness--the brokenness brought about by sin.
Sin is a major concept that our own sinfulness prevents us from fully understanding. It is so easily misunderstood that even well-meaning Catholics as well as the faithful as a whole tend to get it wrong. Given the nature of this post I will set that aside for another time but what will suffice to say for now is that sin prevents persons from being able to correctly discern the course of action that will bring about that real and fulfilling happiness that we are all wired to seek. This brokenness runs so deep that what truly brings about happiness, we often perceive and prejudge as accursedness and misery--sadness. And yet, such perceptions really could not be further from the truth.
The wisdom of God confounds us because it is not intuitive, as it shouldn't to a bunch of sinners. Many a time, his word sounds paradoxical, nonsensical even contradictory but it is because God calls man to dare to go against his natural instinct and with the seeming chaos and uncontrolled movements of God's will and spirit. In a world marred by man's sin down to a metaphysical level, God speaks to us the salvific words that we must rely upon in faith if we are to be healed by them. Indeed, they are quite offensive to man's sensibilities. They are encapsulated in a few places in scripture. Some places we could point to are the beatitudes as well as today's readings. Nothing seems as contradictory as the words: "Blessed (happy) are those who mourn (are sad)..." or "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it." And yet Christ speaks them with a straight face and we are called to believe such words. How?
When I began my first blog, I was struggling with the reasons why I wanted to start a blog and write in that I didn't know what the reasons were. All I knew was the urge--the compulsion--to write. I tried to make a reasonable justification. "Maybe it would lead to a fruitful career" was one of the many reasons I tried to project upon this urge. So I struggled with it. I wrote a little here or there. Tried this, promised myself that. I made all kinds of deals with myself. One such deal was, unless I knew that my writing was going to be "successful" which I determined to mean widely read then I wouldn't write. Another deal I made with this urge of mine was unless it was at a high-level of writing on a topic that was relevant for many, I would not write. What ended up being the case is I set so many conditions that writing was no longer possible. I had rationalized the urge away as some irrational passion that would not bring me any more happiness than any of the other fantasies I set up for myself. I not-so-quickly found that I still did not grasp the reason behind the urge so I eventually just put it away to the back of my mind pursuant to "more productive" uses of my time.
In retrospect, I've come to a rather stunning reflection on what I was doing to myself; who said I needed to have a reason to write. I think they were the whispers of evil and temptation that say things like, "you need a reason to do the things that fulfill you." I may be a famous writer, I may not. Such things I leave in the hands of God and are not for me to determine. The only thing I do know is that God has written the act of writing upon my heart. Every time I try to set it aside, my mind and heart ache because they are trying to be warped into doing things they were not meant for. To use Jeremiah's imagery, the fire in my heart grows. I've tried ignoring it as a passing fancy, a personal fad that I would simply bore myself with and then move on except I never do. I tell myself, "you're naive if you think that writing will pay the bills and provide for you." However, there is another part of myself that is not myself that speaks gently and encouragingly: "writing doesn't have to pay the bills, whether it does is not up to you but it will satisfy." I then give in again. I return to the keys, form a new slate and pound away.
Returning to the words of Christ that seem diametrically opposed to themselves, we must recall the state of life we find ourselves in. I do not mean the state we are in individually in the myriad diversity of all its particularities. I mean, rather, the universal human condition of restless pursuit--the quiet desperation we all fight to stave off. Happiness and, by privation, the desire for it is the primal impulse of humanity. What Christ reveals, and indeed had to reveal to us, is that happiness comes from a counter-intuitive lifestyle of self-denial.
Hans Christian Andersen, in the original telling of the "Little Mermaid" writes that for the little mermaid to live and walk as a human being she had to endure the feeling of treading upon needles and knives with every step. However, driven by the desire to be human and to have an immortal soul, "she bore it willingly." The mermaid's journey to certain happiness, the everlasting joy of heaven, could only be completed by painful means. The little mermaid becomes the foil of human striving. What we ultimately strive to be is fully ourselves--fully human. Given a state in which there is a shortcoming, a lacking--sin--the brokenness of which reaches to the very nature and essence of the human being, we must come to our full and perfected identity as glorified human beings, as men "fully alive" by enduring the pain of denying our current state. To continue on in our current state is to continue on in misery whereas to endure the painful realization that happiness with God requires adherence to his designs and not our shortsighted desires is where true bliss is.
I've come to realize that whatever thoughts I may have before, after or even during my writing, I am truly happy. There are times when it is real work and labor, the laboriousness of which can affect my other activities. However, in the act of writing there is one certainty. I am. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing; the fire is quelled and the urge satisfied. It is a painful process and there are moments that I hate it, that I don't feel like doing it, that I cannot see as being even remotely a means to happiness but in the moment I press the keys I am revealed to myself as patient, kind, not jealous nor proud nor quick-tempered nor boasting nor proud. Not rejoicing in evil, but rejoicing in truth. There are moments of true love both for and from me. It is the stream to which God has led me, refreshing my soul. I want for nothing and I envy no man.
These words may never be read by anyone else but that isn't my concern. In this moment nothing concerns me. If it is the case that no one reads this, it would seem from the outside that it was a waste of time and energy, a futile attempt at prosperity. From the inside, the writing is the reward because it comes form God. This is not to say my writing is infallible and inspired but as a gift from God to me, it is a gift I accept by giving it away freely. In not so confusing of words, in this laborious gift I find God's rest. What comes from it I give to God for Him to do as he wishes; whether it is read by none or many, is acclaimed or ridiculed, I resign myself and the fruit of my labor to God's purposes.