It’s that holy time of year when followers of Jesus around the world contemplate and celebrate the truth of the Incarnation, the miraculous, mind-boggling moment when the Son of God, the Eternal Word, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14, NIV). So, first, I wish the readers of this blog a merry and holy Christmas.
Second, I’d like to opine for a few moments on the value—necessity, even—of “incarnational writing.”
I spoke at length recently with a gifted writer who, having taught for years and written academically, struggled to find her voice and write in a winsome style that would capture and keep her intended readers. I did my best to suggest a few changes, only later realizing that the need was for incarnational writing.
What is incarnational writing? To answer that question, I refer to Jesus,
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV).
So, though I’m still falteringly thinking through things myself, let me try to translate that into writing terms:
He started as God.
Jesus was “in very nature God.” We are not. Obviously. But Christian writers can—and must—start with God. Incarnational writing begins in prayer and submission to the God who is our supply, in every way. Even in what we write.
He didn’t strut and preen as an “expert.”
Teachers and professors are “experts.” So are preachers, to some, at least. But the incarnational writer doesn’t hold on to his or her status, but instead strikes the tone of a co-laborer or co-traveler, a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, so to speak.
He didn’t stay in the “theoretical.”
Jesus presented lofty truth to humans, of course. But he was unfailingly practical, as we must be in our writing. In today’s writing terms, Jesus always provided a clear “takeaway.” (Though, to be fair, he did sometimes speak in riddles to veil his meaning; but that was specific to him and his mission, I think.)
He “enfleshed” the truth.
The core of the Incarnation is that Jesus took on human flesh; truth enfleshed. He became “one of us” and experienced the limitations, vulnerability, and weaknesses of humanity. Similarly, when we write vulnerably, not hiding our flaws and doubts and humanness, we may be writing more like he lived.
He came to serve the “other.”
Jesus became a servant. His whole purpose in living was to supply the desperate needs of others by dying and rising again. In my coaching conversations with writers, the most frequent counsel I offer is to write to serve the reader by honestly identifying that person’s already-felt need and writing to meet that need. For some, it’s a difficult change to make. Many of us write what we want or need to express, rather than turning our perspective around and, well, writing incarnationally, serving the reader’s need rather than our own.
I don’t know; maybe I’m stretching things too far. What do you think? Is “incarnational writing” possible? Are there other, better ways to think about this?