“The Kingdom of God is as a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how…But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” –Jesus Christ, Mark 3:23
I have a journal with a quote on it that says, “You don’t write to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
The quote is anonymous, ironically.
I love writing. I’ve always felt that I’m supposed to write. Yet sometimes I have the helpless feeling that I have nothing to say. At least nothing that hasn’t been said before.
Do you get that feeling? When you have something you love to do, but you shrug the shoulders and wonder, “What’s the point?”
“It’s all been said. It’s all been done,” you say.
It’s then that I wonder what good it is that I write— whether it helps anyone, or if it only itches some personal itch, and if everyone else is just staring while I awkwardly scratch at some invisible flea.
I went through a period of time when I didn’t write at all. I busied myself with practical matters, cooking voraciously, cleaning meticulously. I volunteered myself to death for community and church programs.
I did write—in my head. I finished entire essays and novels, but not once did my fingers tap a keyboard.
Then out of the blue two very good writing opportunities presented themselves (one of them was paid, the other was to be published), and I enthusiastically accepted.
“The time for my writing has come,” I thought.
You know, it’s funny how I tend to think that when money and/or publishing is involved.
The first assignment was a book review of 500-700 words. That used to be my favorite writing number. Have you ever noticed how delicious those numbers are? 500-700. Ecstasy. The soul of wit: brevity. 500-700 words. A column. A number of words that anyone will read, given the right hook. Anything longer can look like work, but 500-700 words? Well, that’s salt, shot, and chaser.
The trouble was I had not written in months, so it took me nearly six hours to write the damned thing. When I finished, it had all the flavor of the last dribble in a coffee pot.
I had to admit I was a little out of practice. I used to write 500-700 words in an hour or two, and now here I was, using every minute of six hours to leak out my sentences.
For my second assignment, a research paper, I nearly broke my neck rummaging through the attic of my mind, trying to find all the words I had put away and forgotten to label. When I found them, they were dusty and matted. They took hours to wipe down and polish.
As I finally typed, I clunked out words like a despondent mason tossing bricks, hoping they’d land in a pattern.
“Dear God,” I asked. “What have I done?”
In ignoring my words, in waiting for “the right (write) moment,” I was completely unprepared when the opportunity actually came. I was left fumbling for words.
In the Gospel of Mark, Christ said that the Kingdom of God is like a sower should sow—planting “seeds” of truth so that the world could experience salvation. The sower’s business is to scatter seed. The seeds grow, but the sower doesn’t know how, says Christ. But when harvest comes, the sower should be ready to reap.
While the parable is most often associated with Christian evangelism, I’ve often thought how the process of creation, of art, is like this. Words are like this.
We struggle and scatter and plant. Then God, or time, or destiny, if you will, determines the harvest; what the seeds will produce.
In his buoyant apologetic work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton pointed out that what we may mistake for monotony or pointless repetition, may instead be a divine demonstration of delight, a celebration in the act of creativity:
Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never tired of making them…The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE.”
A daily grind? Or a daily encore?
So I take up my words again. I’m writing more now, a little every day. In the process I’m discovering what I have to say, what I have to give. Some days it feels silly, just like scattering seeds on a windy day; other days I feel all the delight of a well-chosen word. Regardless, I write because I know I must. I may not know the purpose or harvest yet, but I trust that these words will grow. My business is simply the planting.
Laura Beth Jackson Payne is a teacher, blogger, and free-lance writer who takes herself very seriously in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (best described as “just outside Nashville”). Luckily she has a super-patient engineering husband, Nathan, who keeps her grounded and an awesome rescue cat, Madam- Mouse-the-Purple-Cat, Keeper-of-the-Underworld, and Lover-of-Medieval-Songs (full title), to remind her that few things are more important than starting the day with breakfast and a good back scratch.
She earned her Master’s degree in English from Middle Tennessee State University, writing her thesis on C.S. Lewis’s literary theory, an idea which continues to influence her perspective on the reading and writing process. But when not in front of the computer or a classroom, she’s out for a run, stirring up a mess in the kitchen, or helping Nathan on yet another house project. She daily tries to wrestle all these things into meaning and metaphor on her new blog “Spectacles” at www.lbjp.blogspot.com.