A Syllable of
Water Is Thirst-Quenching
Faith and Writing
If you were invited to attend a conference to hear from such esteemed Christian writers as Philip Yancey, Luci Shaw, and Richard Foster on the art of writing, would you go? What if it cost you less than twenty dollars to attend?
Pick up a copy of A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art (Paraclete Press, 2008). It contains all the nourishment of a life-changing conference on faith and writing, including perspectives on poetry, prose, creative nonfiction, memoirs, and plays; recommended reading lists; and a meditation on what it means to be a Christian and a writer.
Syllable, edited by the celebrated spiritual writer Emilie Griffin, springs from the shared expertise of The Chrysostom Society — a community of writers who have collaborated and encouraged each other for nearly 25 years. Among them are influential minds such as Seattle Pacific University graduate Eugene Peterson ’54, and Gregory Wolfe, publisher of Image journal and director of SPU’s MFA program in creative writing.
“We originally gathered at the behest of Richard Foster, Calvin Miller, and Karen Mains,” says poet Luci Shaw. She explains that they wanted to “overcome the barrier
that seemed to exist at that point between writers of faith and readers in the
That community represented a wide variety of perspectives and voices (Foster described it as trying to get anarchists to form a government). Thinking back on what she calls a “mutual appreciation society,” Griffin can’t help but laugh. “We have a common perspective, but what each person represents in this book is so much himself or herself.”
Griffin says she believes Syllable will give readers the same kind of encouragement that the Chrysostom members offer one another. “It’s inevitable that writers will seek each other out,” she explains. “The Inklings —
C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and the others — were a wonderful example of how fruitful that is. Even though some of the other writers were fairly obscure, they all turned out books and encouraged each other … in wartime, in depression times, in lean times.”
During today’s hard times, writing might seem a waste of time. But in her essay on
journal-keeping, Shaw writes that “crisis times” can be rewarding opportunities for writers. “… [U]nless we achieve a kind of deep honesty with ourselves as flawed, broken
people, I’m not sure that we can write
with the authenticity that will reach other people where they need to be reached.”
(Shaw also offers practical advice — like which kind of notebook will survive the writer’s vigorous use.)
Syllable highlights thoughts from Harold Fickett on a writer’s daily discipline, and
how “writing, when undertaken rightly, can assist in our own redemption.” And the line-up includes reflections from Philip Yancey on journalism, Richard Foster on spiritual writing, Scott Cairns on poetry, John Wilson on relationships with editors, Diane Glancy on playwriting, and more by Dain Trafton, John Leax, Rudy Nelson, Keith Miller, Doris Betts, Virginia Stem Owens, and William Griffin.
“We tried to keep a tone of voice that is light-hearted and fun to read throughout the book,” says Shaw. “We’re writing about writing, and we’re trying to appeal to readers in any particular context — religious or not — about good writing and how to go about it. I love Scott Cairns’ story about writing poetry, as he is one of the preeminent practitioners of poetry. I loved Eugene Peterson’s piece on translation, and then how William Griffin gave a different take on that.”
“You’ll see how idiosyncratic the writers are,” says Griffin. Does she have a favorite? No, but she’s currently excited about Erin McGraw’s chapter on fiction. She gleefully confides, “I have a secret life where I write fiction on the side. And it enlivens me to read what’s in this book.”
Editor’s note: Don’t miss Emilie Griffin’s exclusive essay for Response on spiritual discipline in lean times.
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