When I’m involved in a writing project, or preparing for a speaking engagement, I’ll try to find time to do a very worthwhile psychological and spiritual exercise. I’ll do “a personal gut check.” Because I want my motives for doing what I do to be as pure as they can be, I want to determine what’s going on in my heart.
This idea of the personal gut check comes to us from Ancient Greece. According to Pausanias, the following aphorism (short, pithy truthful saying) was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and this aphorism is attributed to at least six ancient Greek sages (but the one I lean toward is Socrates). It says: “Know yourself” (Greek: γνωθι σεαυτόν). In Latin, the aphorism is generally given as nosce te ipsum.
In a discussion of moderation and self-awareness, the Roman poet Juvenal quotes the phrase in Greek, and states that the precept descended de caelo (from heaven) (Satire 11.27). I think it’s a heavenly idea, too. I think God wants us to engage in self-examination from time to time. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul wrote that we should “examine” ourselves before we take Communion.
The saying “Know thyself” may refer by extension to the ideal of understanding human behavior, morals, and thought, because ultimately to understand oneself is to understand other humans as well. However, the ancient Greek philosophers thought that no man can ever comprehend the human spirit and thought thoroughly, so it would have been almost inconceivable to know oneself fully. Therefore, the saying may refer to a less ambitious ideal, such as knowing one’s own habits, morals, temperament, ability to control anger, and other aspects of human behavior that we struggle with on a daily basis.
One year ago I was sitting on Alii Kahekili Nui Ahumonu Beach, near Kaanapali. You can see why most of the non-Hawaiian locals call it Airport Beach. Alii is a beautiful stretch of sand on the island paradise of Maui, and while I was sunning I was reading The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis.
I was doing some research for the book I’m writing (“Dancing With the Healer;” see DWTH references in this blogsite), and that day I was comparing my writing with that of Lewis’. I did some self-examination – a personal gut check that I referred to earlier. Was I setting out to write a best seller, or produce a work that would elevate me in the eyes of people? Was I writing for money?
That why I wrote the following in the flyleaf of Lewis’ book:
I’m under no illusions. What I have written so far is not profound. You want profound? Read C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed or Kurtz and Ketcham’s The Spirituality of Imperfection.
What I have written is a story, told by an average storyteller. My preferred style of storytelling is verbal, but because I’m producing a book I’ve tried my best to write like I talk.
Because I try to keep my audience with me when I’m speaking, I pause from time to time so those listening can catch up. How do you do that – pause for effect – when you’re writing. Ah! I’ll adopt a style, well-spoken of or not, that will cause the reader to hesitate for just a moment so I can catch my breath. I’ll use ellipses … those magical three dots that allow the reader to take a break, mid-thought.
What I like about writing stories as opposed to telling/talking a story is the opportunity to rewrite. A rewrite is an author’s “do over.” It allows the writer to edit, to clarify, and to amplify his thoughts.
The goal of the storyteller, I am told, is to engage the listener, or reader in the case of a book, and hold their attention until they “get it,” that is, they GET what you’re trying to say. I want my readers to understand, to grasp my meaning.
But here’s the rub: no reader can fully understand the writer’s meaning. Not fully. That’s true in the case of Dancing With the Healer. I’m endeavoring to tell two stories, actually – my story and Vicki’s story. Our stories interwoven. And both stories are complex.
Vicki died. She’s gone “to be with the Lord.” She can’t tell her story verbally, except in bits and pieces via a few MP3s, CDs, and DVDs. And yet she left behind some remarkable “things” that help her tell her story. These things are proof that she truly (and fully) LIVED.
Brandon and Chris, our sons, are proof that she lived and loved. And then there are photos, and friendships. And there’s me – a man changed and enriched by her life and love.
And there are five little booklets. Journals. Beginning in 1982, Vicki faithfully recorded her experiences, thoughts, and prayers. Her journals are very intimate, and they are proof that she truly lived.
Vicki eventually decided that she wanted her journals shared. In 1982 she didn’t write for anyone but herself, but as her life was coming to a close she and I talked about not only sharing her thoughts and experiences with our family, but with friends … and then with anyone who would care to hear what she had to say.
My role, as storyteller, is to stay true to the promise that I made to Vicki in the Winter of 2002. She asked me to help make sharing her journals possible. She asked me to “fill in the blanks,” comment on the context of her journal entries, and put it all into a readable format.
Humbly, I’m trying to keep that promise. I’m doing my best. I’m trying to tell the story … our stories … as honestly and transparently as I can. If anyone chooses to read Dancing With the Healer, my hope is they come away from the reading sometimes challenged, sometimes refreshed, and always a little closer to God.