By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published May 25, 2018
“There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.”
William Faulkner, The Paris Review, 1956
It seems to me that the above quote has much to say about a human life and its struggle to succeed. Faulkner specifically had in mind the young writer. His words also shed some light as the plight that is human life tries to navigate the rough seas of life in a flimsy boat and make it to a far shore without sinking beneath the waves.
Life is an ongoing engagement with the forces that made us. It is all too easy to perceive those same forces in an adversarial way as forces intent to drown us. God’s power is often mistaken as being the same as the forces of nature—we readily assume that God is the master of the winds, the torrential rains and all kinds of natural disasters.
He brings the bad and the good, and there is within us a seemingly natural instinct to pray to him for one or the other and for everything in between.
There is as well the inclination—maybe temptation is a better word—to outfox him. Which basically means to outdo him or do without him—to become masters of our own destiny, completely self-sufficient. And so it was that Eve took a bite from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and the Tower of Babel was built to reach the gods, and modern day dictators in their greed for absolute power subjugate millions.
I do not think that there is any way we can fully cleanse ourselves of the inclination to be like God. On the one hand, God made us in his image. So apparently it is normal, even God-like, for us to desire to pattern our lives after his likeness. On the other hand, we can reach a point where it seems best to jettison any trace of being a second-rate creature. Vanity then bloats every cell in our body and blinds us to the wisdom involved in living a low and humble life.
There was a time when humanity, or at least a very small but significant part of it, thought they had mastered the game. In putting Jesus to death, they were confident that they had, in Faulkner’s words, “beaten the old writer.”
But that was not to be. It can, in truth, never be. As we read in Acts 3:15, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead, and we are witnesses of the fact.”
God is still writing. He is a Master at the craft of making words come to life, page after page, year after year, century after century. The beauty and hope that live and rise from his words free us to live our lives knowing that even when we attempt to shut him out of our lives, he rises again, calling us back, and beckoning us to follow him. The little attempts to kill and silence the divine happen every day—we mute God through our unjust anger at one another, through broken promises, through slander or gossip, through whatever we do or say that make us less than what we are.
But God does not remain silent for long. He speaks again, through mercy, through forgiveness, through hope.
And we read and follow these words of his in our lives as they appear on the faces of those we love and in the tender lines he engraves on our hearts.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com.