This week's column: ON VOICE, AND EASTER (3/23/2008) Copyright 2008 by John B.
Reynolds (email@example.com) Peter Elbow is a composition theorist and a writer.
A teacher and a doer. An academician and a poet of sorts. He is the champion of
expressionism, which essentially puts the writer in charge of his or her own
content (usually, an experience of some sort) and of writing about it in his or
her own voice. Nearly all student-writers and some professional writers utilize
false voices at times just to please a given audience, say, a teacher, an
editor, or even the readership-at-large. But the best writers-- the ones who
grab us--write in a real voice which tells us emotionally that the author cares
about the work, that the text is important, and that it cannot, must not, must
not ever, be set aside.
Elbow observes that when writers are not believable, it is often because
their words come off as manipulative, less focused on the actual experience and
more focused on trying to achieve a certain effect in the reader. He offers this
student-text as an example: “The sun shone through all the tiny driplets of
water clinging to the trees as though each one was a tiny prism and surrounded
us with sparks. We were really glad to see the sun after our long wait, and what
a beautiful reward it was.” According to Elbow, the first sentence wins his
trust but not so the second, because here, “…the writer stopped being wrapped up
in the experience itself and started trying, as it were, to urge me to have it.”
Real voice lets us hear the writer actually speaking to us through the words
on the page. Sincerity fosters it, I think, but writers can achieve real voice
even in their insincerity. It’s all about how the words make us feel. Per Elbow,
“For the power I am seeking, some people use words like authenticity or
authority…I like to call this power juice…because I’m trying to get at something
mysterious and hard to define. ‘Juice’ combines the qualities of magic potion,
mother’s milk, and electricity.” In the end, it’s the something--a sense,
perhaps, of urgency regarding the experience--that resonates first within the
writer, and this allows the words to ultimately connect with the reader.
Pick a Gospel, any Gospel. From Matthew, at the Easter Vigil: “Then the angel
said to the women…‘Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the
crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” From John,
at Easter dawn: “When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and
saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head not with
the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” From Luke, on Easter
afternoon: “He asked them, ‘What are you discussing as you walk along?’ They
stopped, looking downcast…Cleopas said in reply, ‘Are you the only visitor to
Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these
days?’” Nothing fancy here, but the inspired words clearly speak to us of the
experience of the risen Christ, and the evangelists’ collective voice drives our
own voice this day, and all days: He is risen. He is truly risen. Happy Easter.
The Gospel message is playing out all around us, and if you appreciate
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ON SOCCER GAMES AND BIBLICAL SCENES (Sample column)
By John B. Reynolds
It was a dark and stormy night. Really. My son's soccer game didn't start until
6:00 PM that evening, and the ominous clouds were already waiting for us when we
showed up at the field. The rain was light at game time, but earlier showers had
left the place muddy, and the skies grew darker as the contest progressed.
was there, too--another soccer dad--and as we watched the teams in general and
our sons in particular run up and down the soggy turf, we joked that the ref and
the coaches should just call the game and let everybody go home. Especially the
Had we left early, however, we would have missed all the excitement, and,
although we eventually won the soccer match, I'm not talking about the game.
talking about the sky. First the sun broke through the clouds, sending a pocket
of golden light before us from the western sky behind us. Then Ted and I saw the
rainbow. It was hardly a complete rainbow, though. In fact, it was just a chunk
of a rainbow. The lower left chunk, to be exact. But at least we could see that
much, and, if we looked at it hard enough, we could see that every color that
was supposed to be there--red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet--was
represented to some degree or another.
The sun slipped away and so did the colors, but shortly thereafter, the
rainbow came back--the whole thing this time--and minutes later again, we all
hit the celestial jackpot. Because that's when the nearly black clouds behind us
gave way, flooding the sky over the field with sunshine. That's also when a
second rainbow took its place directly over the first. And finally, that's when
a flock of light-colored birds--I am not making this up--flew up from behind us
somewhere and into the brilliance before disappearing into the distant shadows.
I asked Ted if the whole picture didn't seem kind of--you know--biblical. "Yea, just like Noah's ark," he said.
"Exactly," I said. Then Ted added that he thought he saw one of the birds carrying an olive
It was dramatic OK, but biblical scenes are actually popping up in my life
all the time. Think of Lazarus and the rich man; when I turn my back on the
oppressed, am I not living out a biblical scene? Think of the apostles in the
garden; when I am too tired to pray, am I not living out a biblical scene?
think of the worthless servant who buried his master's silver in the ground;
when I do not use my God-given talents and gifts for the good, am I not living
out a biblical scene? But I am hopeful nonetheless--as we all can be--for in
another, more reassuring biblical scene, we are reminded by Jesus himself that
he is with us always. Especially, perhaps, on dark and stormy nights.
would agree with me on this, I'm sure. Not to mention Noah.