Weekly Edgework #52 - June 20, 2005

Writing and Pain

My profession is writing – stories, novels, fantasy, poetry, thoughts. I started to write when I was five, and as I look back on fifty years of this work, I am forced to accept that my best work has been born from pain; I am forced to see that my own continuing development involves pain. It is pain and weakness and constant failures which keep me from pride and help me to grow. The power of God is to be found in weakness, but it is God’s power (The Irrational Season, Madeleine L’Engle, p. 34).

This article is the 52nd of its kind since I established my Edgework.ca website on July 1, 2004. So in a sense this writing celebrates my first anniversary of communicating with the public at large in this forum. It has been a good journey for me. After being forced to resign my position as Conference Minister nearly three years ago due to ill health I went through a period of acute pain. The pain related directly to my illness was child’s play compared to the pain of withdrawal from the public ministry I had enjoyed for more than thirty years.

That experience has caused me to reflect on the nature of public service within institutionalized Christianity and indeed my own involvement in it. If being forced out of service at a time I considered to be premature was accompanied by so much pain, is it possible that public service can in fact be an addiction. I am told that sudden withdrawal of an addictive drug can cause severe physical and emotional pain. Was I then addicted to ministry?

I don’t know. To be frank, I enjoyed most of those years in public service and received plenty of affirmation for what I was doing from people who were most important to me. I did experience hard times as well, and in looking back I can see how those times were instrumental in my growth as a person of faith. And I searched my heart regularly in an attempt to keep my motives for service pure. Still, when the rug was pulled out from under me in 2002, bringing my public service to an abrupt halt, I experienced withdrawal symptoms similar to those a drug addict does when trying to come clean.

At this point in my journey I can look back on that time quite calmly. On occasion I still experience a twinge of pain when I think of what I might be up to had my illness not interrupted the trajectory I was on. But for the most part I am learning to be content on the quieter side-roads of life that the sharp bend in the road a few years back has taken me to. I am frequently reminded of the consolation one of my sons offered back then when he said that this bend in the road would take me to places I would never have seen had I continued on the road I was traveling. Wise beyond his years, that boy!

As my body and soul continue to find healing I am increasingly inclined to agree with Madeleine L’Engle’s notion that one’s better work may in fact be that which is born from pain. By saying that, I am not attempting to put a high grade on my present writing efforts like I used to do on deserving student papers during my years as a college teacher. But I am saying that during the past year I have felt an increasing freedom to be honest with myself and my readers. Once having known acute pain, one has the sense that there is nothing to lose by being honest and vulnerable. There is no turf to protect – no institutional reputation to preserve. One is more free to be who one really is.

For me, that includes raising questions I might once have been afraid to ask in public. It is actually quite discouraging when one has questions to ask which are considered off limits by the establishment. It forces one into living a kind of double life – one, the life that is acceptable to the guardians of institutionalized Christianity; the other, the life you live behind the scenes where questions are not censored. I know many sincere people who feel forced to live such double lives The place I have come to now has allowed these two selves to blend increasingly into a single entity.

Of course not everyone is happy with the new me. I have during this past year received some fairly damning criticism for even raising ideas considered taboo by those living within entrenched establishmentarianism (big word, eh?). On the other hand, I have also heard from many who tell me that they prefer the new me to the old one. Recently a close friend told me that in his opinion I was only now finding my true vocation. He was not denigrating my years of public service in missions, teaching and leadership within the institutionalized structures of faith. But he was affirming that the present fruit he sees, born in pain, is making connections in ways that my formal life of ministry could not have done.

So here I am, celebrating a year of “public ministry” of a new kind. I still sometimes wish for increased energy to give fuller expression to that which still burns within my soul. But I suspect that, as Madeleine L’Engle has found, I too will need to keep on experiencing regular doses of pain, weakness and failures in order to know God’s power and to produce the kind of writings that connect with people and please God. I am poised and ready to enter my second year on the world wide web. Thank you for coming with me.