My previous post gave an overview of Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism), which came out in October 2009. This is the first of several posts that explore ideas raised for me by Patience With God. This post will examine thoughts about writing, about expressing experience in words--a subject very dear to my heart.
Frank writes about the inadequacy of words in Patience With God, making the point that experience trumps words about experience. I think I understand what Frank means--that experience is key and that we can get so caught up in what others have said about God, for instance, that we fail to honor our own experience of God. Yet, when I read these passages about words in Patience With God, I want to say, "Frank, Frank, Frank--wait, wait, wait--but, but, but--there's a whole missing piece in what you're saying about words."
So--below are some things that Frank says about words in Patience With God, along with my response to Frank.
FRANK: Speaking of God, there are thousands of books hanging around my house worrying me. In those books are tens of millions of words. None of those words (including these) explain why the greatest pleasure that I experience during any given day is when I lose myself in the small yet overwhelming presence of my granddaughter. (Page x)
ME: Frank, your words may not explain to your satisfaction why your greatest pleasure is to lose yourself in your granddaughter Lucy's presence, but your words do capture your experience of Lucy, at least to some degree. Here is what I think your words do.
- Preserve the memory of your experience of Lucy
- Allow you to live your experience of Lucy a second time, to probe its meaning, to dive into its richness and depth, to make it clearer to yourself--to enjoy this experience more fully for having lived it twice, once through the lived experience, and again through the written experience
- Bring up insights about your experience of Lucy that you might not reach if you didn't write about it
- Experience the joy of creation in writing
- Connect you with your readers through the sharing of your experience in words, for words are the only way I can share your experience. Obviously, I don't have your lived experience of Lucy, but your words do allow me to share the beauty of your experience to some degree.
FRANK: In this game--the meaning game--it's all about intuition, hope, and the experience of life, a letting go of all concepts, words, and theologies because they can only be metaphors and hinder our experience of the truth as it is--not as we desire, believe, or hope it might be or should be, but as it is." (Page xii)
ME: I agree that others' words about God can hinder my own experience of God. This can happen if I let others' words determine my experience, if I brush my own experience under the rug or even refuse to have my own experience because I already "know" what the experience of God is like, since others have told me.
However, when I have my own experience of God (or of anything), I do believe that it is well worthwhile to put that experience into words. When I do this, the act of writing about my experience clarifies the experience and makes it more real to me. It is important, though, to hold my experience loosely, always being open to additional and even contradictory experience. I can then go on to make this new experience deeper and more real through words and yet hold it, too, loosely, always open to yet other experience.
FRANK: Are unnamed things meaningless? Do we have to understand something in order to experience it? (Page 56)
ME: I would say that unnamed things are vague. My experience is clearer, fuller, richer--more real, actually--when I can name and articulate my experience.
FRANK: None, be they Dawkins's atheistic sermons or religious tomes by men such as Thomas Aquinas, capture the empathy between Lucy and me, let alone describe one second of the actual reality. (Pager 57)
ME: Frank, I get that Dawkins's and Aquinas's words do not capture your experience of Lucy. But your words, Frank, do capture that experience. Your words even connect me with my own similar experience and help me to understand and deepen my experience. Your words do this for your readers. You are a writer who bonds closely with your readers through your words. That is why you receive so many emails in response to your books.
FRANK: I still bring Genie a cup of coffee in bed. I still say "I love you" to her and believe that those words have a deeper meaning than my genes fooling my brain. I still say "I love you" to Lucy, too, even before she can understand those words. I believe those words represent a choice. I also believe they embody a mystery that I'm not ashamed to enjoy rather than try to explain. (Page 58)
ME: Frank, I can't help but think that describing your experience of Genie in words actually heightens your enjoyment. I'll bet that when you write about your love for Genie, as you do so beautifully in Chapter 12, it causes you to fall in love with her even more deeply. (In fact, Chapter 12 causes me to fall in love with Genie!) This is because writing about a subject necessitates a close study of that subject--be it a person, a place, an object, or an idea--and that close study coupled with putting the result into words can't help but deepen your love. I think that writing about your wife causes you to fall yet more deeply in love with your wife and that writing about other subjects causes you to fall yet more deeply in love with the world.