Such Fine Stuff

by Rev. Nick Chambers

I have always been fascinated with the lives and habits of writers—especially poets and novelists—people who bend over a page and pour themselves out. Some are methodical and disciplined, others unpredictable. They often live the kind of lives that look prodigal and impractical from the outside. But in the act of writing, each is weighing out the world as well their own soul, losing and discovering themselves in the writing and the written. William Faulkner once said, “I never know what I think about something until I have read what I’ve written on it.” This way of working things out is not without waste. You can’t sleep everything. There are dead ends and much is lost. Annie Dillard minces no words in her book The Writing Life:

“Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back… Courage utterly opposes the proud hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality… The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin.” (4)

The pursuit of truth requires brave surrenders and wasteful turns along the way. It often means sacrificing what was most promising, most precious and important. 

So the Lord urges his people: “Do not remember the former things…I am about to do a new thing.” So the psalmist sees tears and seeds of joy. So Mary wastes her perfume on the feet of Jesus, considering not its worth but the weight of the present moment. Just one chapter later, Christ would do the same for his followers. So Paul abandons everything he built. He regards his pedigree and privilege as rubbish in reckless pursuit of the truth—that “bare reality” of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Even the so-called sacred is sacrificed for the sake of Christ—who just one chapter earlier Paul says "did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.” The “prize" has so captured his priorities that he cuts his losses and presses on into Christ.