I was out for a walk yesterday, brown leaves hurrying across the street, when I met my neighbor Mrs. Brenda. Before she asked it, I knew her question:
“How’s your book?” she called over the whir of a leaf blower.
She’s an author herself, and when I told her I was breaking ground on a hefty writing project last winter, I hoped she’d keep asking about it. When the year grew old, I knew I’d need someone nearby who would stop me on my walk and ask, Have you stayed faithful to the work?
I was glad to see Mrs. Brenda come around the corner yesterday.
“I’m near the end of my first year inside the Author Conservatory,” I told her. “Things are coming along.”
The Author Conservatory is a college-alternative program for writers serious about their work; and by “Things are coming along,” I meant that I now have notes packed with research, an essay draft written, and a speech planned for next week.
It’s terribly easy to get holed up at my desk, notebooks scattered, and to forget that writing takes both solitude and community. I need to get out, go for walks, and run into neighbors who will ask: Have you stayed faithful to the work?
You are one of those neighbors, dear reader.
“Your writing is formed by others for others.”
~ Ben Palpant, Letters from the Mountain
So, here’s an update on the project I mentioned— not a book, but at least the germinating seeds of something like it. I’ve spent the last year inside the Conservatory, and I haven’t just been growing things: thoughts, ideas, skills, essays. I, myself, have been growing too, like a tree planted by a good stream that’s learning to bear fruit in season.
What I’ve been thinking about
The big, beautiful topic I’ve spent this past year examining might seem paltry: Ordinariness.
I’ve been asking questions like:
Why do the stories of ordinary folks, living in ordinary neighborhoods, attending ordinary churches matter?
How does the truer story of Scripture shoot eternal meaning through the cracks and seams of our lives on earth?
Is there a chasm separating “spiritual” or “churchy” things from the blue-collar work we return to Monday morning?
How do we live faithfully for Jesus on quiet streets, farms, and front porches?
Genesis tells us we’re made in God’s own image, Ecclesiastes says eternity breathes inside us, and Revelation calls us “priests to our God.” So somewhere beneath all this ordinariness, there is an extraordinary reality. Our little stories are the prologue to a better, truer Story.
“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story… in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
~ C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
What I’ve been writing
But all that glory is hard to see, I know. Where is priesthood and eternity on the factory floor? In the kitchen? Or in the pale light of a hospital waiting room? It all feels so humdrum— so earthly.
So, I visited a few people this year and asked them to tell me their stories— stories of disability, miscarriage, and cancer, but also stories of adoption, gardening, and the beauty of creative work. I took so many notes that I got a sore on my finger, and I piled those pages into a folder labelled, “The Truer Story.”
One of these days, I’m going to write those stories down, and it’s going to be soon. I hope you’ll read them as they come. And through them, I hope you won’t just be told there’s glory in the ordinary, but that you’ll see the glory yourself in the form of pastors and woodworkers and moms.
I can’t think of a better way to foreshadow the Truer Story than to tell stories that God wrote himself.
What I’ve been doing in the real world
Well, thinking and writing take more mental stamina than I ever imagined. This year, I’ve realized how often I need to bury my hands in real work, be outside under real trees, and have conversations with real people. People, especially, are growing more beautiful to me. I’m learning to see them. And I’m deeply grateful for a flesh-and-bone community of them, whom I pass in the hallways and streets to ask and be asked, How are you doing? Have you stayed faithful to the work?
I’d like to love this community better, and the best way to love someone is to know them better.
For my year-end speech then, I’m going to sit down with a couple from church and ask them their story. I’d love to have you join me Wednesday evening, November 16th for An Evening of Story & Song. You can contact me for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions or thoughts about anything I’ve said, please share them! I value you, not just as a reader, but as a person. I’m thankful for you, and I’m praying that this coming year — both inside and outside the Conservatory — is one of people, of sainthood, of generous writing that glorifies a generous God.
By his grace alone,
“For some people, life is an endless pleasure hunt. For others it’s simply a pursuit of glory. For writers like you, life boils down to nothing less than giving yourself away.”
~ Ben Palpant, Letters from the Mountain