By Christine Sunderland
Writers are the bearers of memory, the shepherds of our culture’s past. In my novels, I have worked to call that past into our present, so that we may protect it in the fold of words, words that carefully curate the stories of Western Civilization. In The Fire Trail (eLectio, 2016) I tried to pull together the history of Berkeley, the role of Christianity in civil culture, as I considered today’s threats to freedom of speech, religion, and liberty, setting the story amidst the collapse of law and order and modernity’s erasure of the past.
We have been formed by that past, have listened to the many voices of our personal history as well our own people’s history. We once were taught in childhood how we came to be, how our beloved country came to be. We once were taught in school what America dreamed of becoming, what she became, and what she is today, a beacon of light and hope to all the world, protecting all, even the naysayers.
In the Church, a similar schooling occurs. Family and faith communities work to train us in the way we should go, lighting our path through the dark wood, although we do not always heed their teachings. Nevertheless, the Church holds the sacred memory of salvation, of Old Testament sins and prophesies, of New Testament fulfillments and resurrections, of God entering our world, of God loving us unto death, and rebirth, loving us beyond shadow of turning.
Both in the secular and sacred worlds and especially where they overlap, informing and sculpting one another, the past forms our present, and we re-member memory through words. Through language and the memory language portrays, we understand who we are, and who we are meant to be. Language and memory give meaning to mankind.
Writers—those architects of meaning, of words and phrases—bear a civic responsibility. They have been charged to tell the history of mankind so that our culture may know itself, and thus its way forward.
Christian writers—those keepers of salvation meaning and memory—bear a holy and civic responsibility. They have been called to redeem the secular culture by means of the sacred culture. They are called to proclaim the love of God for his creation, and the way into the high mountains, to the gates of Heaven.
Christian writers of fiction—those poets of symbol and sign, of metaphor and story—bear an artistic, holy, and civic responsibility. They have been inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to express the inexpressible through stories and parables, through words imbued with beauty, through scenes rimmed with glory.
As Christian novelists, we are offered again and again a unique and spectacular gift. We are called to use that gift, that Godly vocation, to give our culture a way out of Hell and into Heaven, no less. We are called to paint a picture of the right way, the path that climbs into, onto, and through the Cross of Christ, the cross that links Earth with Heaven.
All that we write must reflect in some way the vision of God—who he is, what he has done for us, what he is doing now, and where he will lead us if we choose him.
Our Lord will teach us to lead—to shepherd—our readers, his flock. We are the crook of his shepherd’s staff. We bring the lost home, safely into the fold, protected from wolves, with our staff of story.
We shepherd Our Lord’s sheep with words that sing his voice, the sound of the Shepherd.
How do we make this happen? How do we open the doors of our souls—our minds and our hearts—to be filled with Our Lord’s voice?
We immerse ourselves in Scripture, Hymnody, Sacraments and Liturgy. We pray the Psalms and sing the Magnificat. We fall on our knees and ask that our words will be true and in tune, will carry his melody onto our pages.
For his song is an ancient one, ancient of days, sung to the music of the spheres, witnessing the foundations of the universe. His song, imbuing our pages, will lead our readers to still waters and green pastures. His song, cradled in the heart of our words, will restore souls to righteousness. His song, carried by the river of our tale, will protect and comfort in the valley of death, banishing fear and evil. Our words anoint and nourish, telling of Our Lord’s goodness and mercy.
In my novels, I pray through a seeming wilderness of words, pulling the phrases together in concert. I am currently praying my way through Angel Mountain, a story about Heaven and Earth, the sacred and the secular, meaning and memory. Most of all, it is about the wonderful works of God.
We celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord on May 30. This coming Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the birth of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples in Jerusalem and gave them the miracle of many languages. As Christian writers, we witness to that Ascension, and to our own resurrections. We witness to that gift of words at the gathering in Jerusalem:
“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4, KJV)
As Christian writers, we witness to this gift of utterance, words carrying God’s Spirit, so that we confess and bequeath through language and memory the wonderful works of God.Re-membering Memory: How the Christian novelist shepherds the past into the present and redeems our world with words. @Chrisunderland #ACFWBlogs #Christianfiction #amwriting Click To Tweet
Christine Sunderland has authored six award-winning novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set in England, Hana-lani, set in Hawaii, The Magdalene Mystery, set in Rome and Provence (all Oaktara), and The Fire Trail (eLectio), set at UC Berkeley. She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union (www.AmericanChurchUnion.com). Visit Christine at www.ChristineSunderland.com (website and blog).