Have you ever had a moment when you discover spiritual truth in an unexpected way? This happens to me when I watch movies or TV shows, hear music, have conversations with other people, or in the ordinary activities of my day. God is always with us, and if we are sensitive to that idea, we become disciples (from “discere”meaning “to learn”) of the greatest Teacher ever. I gleaned a great deal of spiritual truth from my favorite Orson Scott Card book, Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, a fictional reworking of history. Here is an excerpt from chapter one:
Columbus withdrew from human company that night and threw himself to his knees – not for the first time, but never before with such anger at the Almighty. “I have done all you set for me to do,” he said, “I have pushed and pleaded, and never once have you given me the slightest encouragement, even in the darkest times. Yet my trust never failed, and at last I got the expedition on the exact terms that were required. We set sail. My plan was good. The season was right. The crew is skilled even if they think themselves better sailors than their commander. All I needed now, all that I needed, after everything I’ve endured till now, was for something to go right.“
Was this too bold a thing for him to say to the Lord? Probably. But Columbus had spoken boldly to powerful men before, and so the words spilled easily from his heart to flow from his tongue. God could strike him down for it if he wanted — Columbus had put himself in God’s hands years before, and he was weary.
“Was that too much for you, most gracious Lord? Did you have to take away my third ship? My best sailor? Did you even have to deprive me of the kindness of Lady Beatrice? It is obvious that I have not found favor in your eyes, O Lord, and therefore I urge you to find somebody else. Strike me dead if you want, it could hardly be worse than killing me by inches, which seems to be your plan at this moment. I’ll tell you what. I will stay in your service for one more day. Send me the Pinta or show me what else you want me to do, but I swear by your most holy and terrible name, I will not sail on such a voyage with fewer than three ships, well equipped and fully crewed. I’ve become an old man in your service, and as of tomorrow night, I intend to resign and live on whatever pension you see fit to provide me with.” Then he crossed himself. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Having finished this most impious and offensive prayer, Columbus could not sleep until at last, no less angry than before, he flung himself out of bed and knelt again.
“Nevertheless thy will not mine be done!” he said furiously. Then he climbed back into bed and promptly fell asleep.
Today, I typed notes as I listened to Card’s lecture on various aspects of fiction writing. The analogy of God-as-author and we-as-characters is inadequate and flawed. The main problem with the analogy is that God loves us, His very REAL non-fiction characters. And the Plan of the Ages is so much more than a story. Nevertheless, for people who are able to look past what doesn’t fit, the analogy is loaded with spiritual truth. Card is an author who is very concerned with explaining why people do what they do, and as an author, he explores the human condition through his fictional characters and circumstances in various settings from familiar to alien. I always find some spiritual truth in his books because of this. In his writing class, he explains the brainstorming processes and techniques that he uses to invent his wonderfully imaginative stories, and like his books, I also glean spiritual truths from his lessons.
I’d like to share a few excerpts from the notes I typed today. Card’s ideas and words (my paraphrase, NOT direct quotes) are in bold. My observations are in regular type.
If the audience is familiar with your story, they will reject it, because it has been pulled from the cliche shelf. It is old, worn out material. We must write stories that feel new. We must become inventors and creators that think outside the box. Every and any possibility is available to us, including possibilities that might bring disapproval. You have a voice that is yours alone (the exception is echoes of your mom’s and dad’s voices that stay with you in your mind). You don’t decide on or create your own voice. It just happens as you tell your story, a story told only as you can tell it. You get information from your head to the reader’s head, but they will only stick around long enough to listen if it is interesting.
In spiritual matters, the institutional church has relegated God to a box, and they have so clearly defined exactly what it means and what it looks like to be a believer that there is inadequate room for a proper display of God’s creativity. God’s imagination is limitless, and when He created human beings, He put His imagination to use. Look at us. We each have our own faces, fingerprints, personalities, talents, and dreams. When God created us, He had unique “characters” in mind. In an unfolding story, characters differ from one another and interact in certain unique ways according to the intention and direction of the author. The story gets stuck if every character is the same and nothing new happens. Some people get stuck in a spiritual rut, because they have allowed themselves to become slaves of the expectations of other characters who don’t approve of the author’s idea of who we were created to be and what we were created to do. With God as our only author, we are free to take risks and have amazing adventures. We are safe in His capable hands. Our personal experiences, habits, gifts, and flaws are part of God’s redemptive Plan of the Ages, a story that is real and perfect.
In the first person limited point of view, the “I” is the narrator who tells the story. The narrator easily becomes artificial and self-serving. First person puts up so many barriers. Plus, your main character must be the kind of person who would tell his own story. How are you to write from the point of view of a person who has no interest in telling his own story? There are people like that, whose stories are worth telling. How do you tell what a hero he is without making him seem like a pompous twit? (Example: The character as narrator says, “I bravely marched forth… blah, blah, blah) First person point of view fiction can be written, but it can’t be easily written, and it is often written unsuccessfully. The first person narrator can be a liar without the reader even realizing it. He can tell it all, from past to present to future, but purposely withholds information from reader. The narrator is harder to ignore, and without the author’s intention, he pulls focus away from other characters that are important to the story.
In telling a story, don’t use the second person limited point of view. The narrator is bossy. Save this for cookbooks and instructions.
In the third person limited point of view, “he” or “she” tells the story. The third person limited point of view is far more immediate than first person. The narrator only tells us what has happened up until the present moment in the story, not because he is withholding information, but because future things haven’t happened yet for the characters. There’s a reason third person limited point of view has been the absolute dominant force of fiction for a thousand years. The third person narrator isn’t a liar (if you want to write him as a liar, this is very difficult to pull off, and most readers won’t stick with a story like this). By and large, the narrator in third person is reliable. The narrator is easy to ignore and readers are free to focus on the characters and the story.
There is some spiritual significance to the idea that our lives are best lived from an other-centered, not self-centered perspective, similar to the idea of a story being best told from a limited third person, rather than first person perspective. If a person is constantly looking inward and describing the worthiness of his own actions to others, pointing out his own clever approach to life, and drawing attention to his own thoughts and feelings about everything, his life becomes artificial and self-serving. He puts up barriers between himself and others. He leaves no room for the other’s stories to become important or influential. The “readers” of his life have a more difficult time experiencing the Author’s “story”, because his self-appointed position of importance becomes such a distraction.
However, if the Author is the one drawing attention to a person (as in third person limited perspective) instead of that person drawing attention to himself, the “readers” will see that the person is reliable. During those seasons of the “character’s” life when the people in his circle of influence need to understand how his story and their stories are woven together as part of God’s Plan of the Ages, the “character” isn’t a source of distraction. Jesus said that whoever humbled himself, like a child, would be greater in the Reign of God. If we apply the author analogy to this concept, we could say that a life lived in a third person limited perspective point of view (an authentic, outward focused viewpoint, like a child who does what says and does only what the Author has appointed for him to say or do) will be more influential and more important in the Reign (“plot”?) of the Author.
Dramatic irony is more powerful than suspense; suspense is more powerful than surprise. They are all valuable. With dramatic irony, readers know far more than the character about the danger ahead; with suspense, readers know what the character knows and that “something” is going to happen; with surprise, readers know enough about the activity the characters are involved in, but readers don’t know that anything is about to happen.
The spiritual truth in this is simple, but anyone without eyes to see and ears to hear just won’t get it. If you, reader, just don’t get it, it’s not because you are stupid or inadequate or any other negative thing; you don’t get it for one of two reasons. 1. I am seeing spiritual “truth” where there is none. 2. God, for whatever reason, has decided that you are not to understand this particular concept at this particular time. If there is a third possibility, I am not aware of it. Needless to say, I will not put forth a lot of effort into explaining something in order to give people understanding that only God can give. So without further ado: Dramatic irony, suspense, and surprise (in that particular order) can be compared to the spiritual “story” awareness appointed by the Author to the barley, wheat, and grape harvest “readers” (also in that particular order). “Each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ’s in his presence, then – the end when […] he may have put all the enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15)
Card throws the eraser at workshop attendant, who catches it. Why does he catch it? Because Card threw it (mechanical cause) at him and because Card wanted to make a point (motivational cause) about causes. Watch the news and see to whom the news assigns mechanical causes and to whom the news assigns motivational causes. The difference between people (motivational causes) and animals (mechanical causes) are assigned in this way. You will be amazed at how the media subtly labels various people groups as “people” or “animals” in this way.
I’ve not had the opportunity to test this idea, and consequently, I don’t see spiritual truth in Cards idea (yet). But it is a very interesting concept that I wanted to share. Be sure to share your feedback if/when you test it.
That’s all for today! Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I will be posting a new blog about my Greensboro experience each day this week. (Saturday’s blog will be posted Sunday since Saturday I won’t have internet access on the trip back to Florida.)