7.26.2010

Shouts of Earth, Echoes of Eternity

In  response to Mr. Pond, Scrabble in the Wilderness

After several weeks of back-and-forth posting by Mr. Pond and me, we have a winning word: blogalectic. Good enough for me. I'll make a search label out of it, so back posts are easy to find. (There's a list of labels on the sidebar, if you haven't noticed.)

Today's webisode(?) of the blogalectic may get a little too honest. Hang with me, if you will.

Mr. Pond works this week with a question: How to write into our time?:
"I think for Jenna as well as for me—and others like us—we have at once a deep empathy with our own ‘passionate, fleeting time,’ but also a great disconnect."
He goes on to detail some of the problems of our time, things like "In many ways, the postmodern criticism of life has been well and good, but it has left us in a sprawling suburb without a downtown, a community with no center, that incites repressed despair." Likewise, "To speak of things like, say, formality and hierarchy and ritual and confession elicits suspicion at best, hostility at worst."

And yet we are children of our time, as he says:
"I’ve learned with the rest of my generation that men can accessorize too, that, yes, change we can, that authenticity is real, and that helping others helps us. I’ve also learned with them that change inspires hate, that the gears of justice grind slowly or not at all, that authenticity can be little more than triviality, and that Starbucks is not the center of the world."
In those words, however, a few tiny warning bells ring in my mind, reminding me that in some ways I am not actually a child of this time. I was homeschooled. On a farm. In Montana. Over ten years ago (it's nearer fifteen.) My response to the word change is "Well, that's a neutral term; change can be good or bad, or even go from one wrong to another." The words hate and injustice usually first call to mind not actual hate and injustice but angry, sign-waving protesters on a street corner—the sort of people I'd walk or drive blocks out of my way to avoid. And I like Starbucks (hey, Starbucks opened its doors for the first time less than a two hours' drive from my house.)

As for formality, hierarchy, ritual, confession—these are things of life and beauty to me, of hope and peace and sanity in a crazed, confused existence. That's hardly considered normal or healthy nowadays. So what have I got to speak into this world? I could just give up and find another career.

One of the oldest adages around in the authorial community is write what you know. It would be possible to take that in very literal, superficial terms: to write novels about conservative Christian white girls whose friends are all conservative Christian white girls because they live in a rural district where there are more donkeys than Democrats and the boys are all the strong silent type—or at least the silent type—and the only place to go besides the grocery is church. Or I could write about conservative Christian white girls who move to a liberal coastal college town where it's open season year round on conservatives and if she happened to stick out an arm suddenly she'd be as likely to hit a practicing pagan as a Christian.

...but that's not what I take that adage to mean. Not anymore.

A book that really moves hearts does so, in my opinion, on a religious level. Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying that overtly spiritual books are more meaningful, or that atheists can't be really moved by books. I'm saying that the experience of a person touched by a story is spiritual, that something in the tale related to that person's search for salvation and meaning. (Those who have no religion, and many of those who do, search for salvation and meaning in politics or relationship or pleasure or any combination of the above.)

Religion is given only passing mention in Harry Potter, but I consider those books one of the top five reasons I am still a Christian today.

Commenter Donna remarked on this concept of spirituality and story last week, and explained further in a post on her own blog:
"...the crux of my above response to Jenna's post is this: a good story has the ability to transfigure, by God's grace, the fallenness of our world and our selves, from the inside out—made possible because of Christ having done this very same thing for us on the cross. I think this, for me, is the measure of a truly "good" story—one that achieves this great feat.

Is this a tall order for the writers and storytellers out there? Perhaps. But, it's what I'm seeking when I devour book after book after book—a reader's quest, if you will. And of course I have found it (Thank God!), time and time again, and these are the books and stories that get at the core of me. They tell my story of brokenness and redemption back to me."
They tell my story of brokenness and redemption back to me.

That brought tears to my eyes. Here is something I know—and it is something that works inside my time, something I can share with those around me. Because the Harry Potter fans that don't understand my Christianity, that call me a Death Eater for sometimes voting Republican—they grew in love and courage alongside Harry, much like I did. The pre-teen girls reading Twilight and dreaming about the gorgeous vampire boy and the equally gorgeous werewolf boy are longing for the same undying love that I am, even if they have never thought of looking for something a little more eternal than mankind.

Those books, and the other stories that have mattered to any of us, speak of something more than our time. They may, as Mr. Pond explains, unite the strengths of our time to the greater truths they draw from, or they may cut away the lies and weaknesses. He says "To be of tellers is to be—to have an opportunity to be, taken or not—a voice crying in the wilderness, shattering the frivolous moment with the echoes of eternity."

I read in search of spiritual meaning, and I write in search of it as well. My current novel-in-progress contains no religion. It contains politics, but none that parallel American partisanship. There are no direct allegories and no attempts to satisfy salvation-seekers with liberty or sex or the sinner's prayer. If I've done my job right, however, it will take anyone who comes searching along a trajectory of love, with glimpses of glory.

All I've done is write what I know.

6 comments:

  1. Brilliant, beautiful post, Jenna. In the interest of honesty, I was homeschooled in Mayberry, Wisconsin--a conservative white kid with a handful of conservative white friends, in a proudly conservative county. I grew up and went to small conservative college, and discovered that Starbucks is pretty near the center of the world. The Place to be.

    I guess things do change, for good or ill.

    Our generation seems very idealistic, and largely uncritical--regardless of political affiliation. Perhaps it was a mistake to say I've also learned 'with them'--perhaps as a generation we've not learned these things.

    Those are some of the tensions I was trying to bring out in this post. Sure, I identify, but I've never really felt a 'part' of things, if you know what I mean. Not saying that's a bad thing, just saying.

    I still like Starbucks, though. :)

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  2. I didn't know you were homeschooled! Glad to hear it. One virtual high-five, coming your way. :)

    "I identify, but I've never really felt a 'part' of things, if you know what I mean"--I know exactly what you mean. Despite my claims to feeling out of step with the times, I do identify in some ways--an idealistic sense of compassion, for instance.

    Glad you liked the post! I'll look forward to your next.

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  3. What Jenna said! :) In her original post that is.

    Anyway, I feel like too much of a modern or mostly pre-modern to feel comfortable with post-modernity. I resonate with a lot of post modern concerns but really feel out of place otherwise. Maybe it's because, as Lewis says, I've read all the wrong sorts of books, that is to say, I've read all the right sorts of books. :)

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  4. Thanks, George. And I like that thought of Lewis'. :)

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  5. Jenna, I am humbled by your reaction to my post. Thank you for drawing upon it here!

    This is a great post, for many reasons. But, my favorite line is:

    "If I've done my job right, however, it will take anyone who comes searching along a trajectory of love, with glimpses of glory."

    This, my friend, makes me want to read your novel, badly! And, if you wrote in search of these things, so that in turn the reader could read in search of the same... that is a very blessed partnership to enter into, with your reader. I hope someday to count myself one. :)

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  6. You're welcome, Donna! Thanks for the comments in the first place. And I'd love to share my novel with you someday... sounds like you might be just the type of person I wrote it for. :)

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