Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Morning Meds--Telling the Story


“Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to you. . .”

I read an interview some time ago with Susan Cheever, a novelist and non-fiction writer, who is—perhaps to her own dismay—likely better known as the daughter of the now deceased John Cheever, a highly celebrated short story writer.  For several reasons, that interview won’t leave me alone, and one of them is her claim that, to her as a child, her father’s short stories horrified her. 

She remembers a time when her father used a ski trip she had taken as a base for a story about a little girl who dies on exactly that kind of outing. “In my family,” Susan Cheever says, “being fictionalized has been ten million times more painful” than finding themselves in portrayed in non-fiction.
           
That line in that interview nearly decked me because it had never dawned on me that my family might experience a similar horror, victims, in a way, of their father’s imaginative “use” of their lives. I’d never, ever considered the grotesque puzzle I might have left with any of them, finding semblances and shadows of themselves and each other twisted and turned into something at once bitterly unrecognizable and sweetly familiar.  I can’t speak for John Cheever, but I honestly never had a clue—I really didn’t.

Haunting questions arise.  Was my own playful creativity the occasion for their pain?  Was my joy their misery?  Should I have spent so much of my adult life trying to write stories?  Was the way I’ve lived my life dead wrong? 

And I ask myself this:  if, when I was thirty, I had read what Susan Cheever says, would I have dedicated so much of my life to writing?

Perhaps it is a mark of the deep stain of sin itself, but now, looking back, I honestly can’t imagine myself not writing. For better or for worse, I guess, sitting here at this desk has become, for me, a “habit of being,” as Flannery O’Connor said.  Still, hard as it is to admit, our best deeds and my best words are filthy rags, the Bible says.
           
I feel myself in David’s own shoes here in verse six:  “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to you. . .”  His impulse here in this psalm and throughout his poems is to tell the story of his salvation.  We want and need to tell the stories we find most meaningful, to share our joy or sadness as he does in this marvelous book of poems.  We want everyone to hear.  Not all of us are evangelists, but we all have a gospel, and most all of us want to testify, even if it's to ourselves alone.
           
The story of Psalm 32 becomes a roadmap for those who need to find a path to forgiveness. showing us the way.  Psalm 32 leads us to divine waters.  

But the story David tells has never saved a soul, and neither will a million sermons on this text, or, for that matter, this mediation, or any words that march across the computer screen down here in my basement.  Only God’s grace—through his son’s gigantic sacrifice—can do that.  Salvation belongs to the Lord.

I wonder if David knew that he was writing “the Bible.”  I wonder if he understood as he strung these words out in front of him that he was being directed by the Holy Spirit’s favor. I wonder if he ever considered his words were not his, but God’s.

Somehow, I doubt it.  And because I do, I find a refuge in his inability to keep silence.  He’s got to speak, to sing.  With the joy of forgiveness bubbling up inside, he can’t stanch the music from his soul.  He’s got to yap, to tell.

But even his joy, his testimony, his story requires forgiveness.  Everything he is—even his ecstasy—stands in need of grace. 
           
May God almighty forgive me, and him, and all of us, as he promises, as he does, and as he will.     

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