I have learned to love revising, eliminating unnecessary words, shifting ideas, and adding clarity to phrases. A few revisions should have been no problem at all.
But I was revising a series of passages about prayer, and the notes in the margin posed tougher questions than I was ready for: Do you have an example? Is there more you can add? What do you mean here?
What do I mean? This is not a question that can be answered with a few quick strokes of a red corrector’s pen. I am writing about the deep moving of my heart. I am writing about God. I have to get these answers right.
Today’s psalm response exclaims “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!” I am often guilty of speaking in a way that doesn’t recognize that Jesus is always right beside me. Sometimes this is vulgar or negative speech that doesn’t honor the dignity of others, and sometimes it is the type of casual theological talk that is an occupational hazard in ministry.
The written word gives me more time to exercise prudence, and I am ambivalent about this because it can hold me back. When I first started writing about spirituality, I did so in spite of myself. I had been blogging about a long trip abroad, but found that I couldn’t separate my interests in spirituality from my tales of the everyday. If I had been able to resist the call to write about spirituality I would have, because the stakes feel so very high.
Writing about prayer seemed impossible. I didn’t know anything about prayer, I thought. I had no disciplined prayer life to speak of, and I was too young. But I was drawn to using words to make sense of all things, visible and invisible, and soon I was churning out pages of exactly that type of prayer that I was supposedly “not good at”.
Churning might be an overblown image: the words come in quick bursts with long pauses of wordless thought as I ensure that each word is what I really mean. The progress is slow and methodical, andI know there have been missed opportunities along the way. I would rather miss a chance to chime in than get swept up in the latest hot take and write something I’m not sure I believe. When the time comes to answer that deep question of meaning I think about my deepest convictions, the wisdom of Scripture, the words of other authors, and my own history. I think about God.
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!