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?
I wish I might know what you need,
but it’s through a glass, so darkly
that I can see, and scarce can heed
that which to your heart’s starkly
placed, that lack for which you cry,
to which you are bound, penitent;
thus, however hard I try,
the wall ‘tween us is renitent
unless in my reflected face
it’s your eyes that I let appear,
and in a trumpet-call of grace
I feel upon my cheek your tear
and in its warm salt know it’s true
that in God’s love I’m bound to you.
I love this poem!
Bethany, thank you so much!
We will rise
In and for Him!
Karen, this is lovely. Thank you!
“A trumpet call of grace.” Yep, that’s incarnational writing, Andrew.
Shirlee, I am so honoured.
I’m exhausted, and curled up by a heater (even though the house is a balmy 72 degrees), but your words brought warmth. I’m so grateful.
Billie Jo Youmans
I love this! It reminds me of wonderful advice I heard decades ago – “Bleed on the page.” I long to write only in “His voice” – without my strident, petulant tendencies. Contemplating that desire as “incarnational writing” stirs my heart. Thank you.
For you, Billie.
Bleed, my friend, upon the page
and pour out all the hurt inside,
all frustration, all the rage,
for you’ll inspire all who hide
behind a mask of It’s OK,
reluctant, scared to make a wave,
for back in the Gospel Day,
this was Christ’s method to save
a world that turned away, pretending
that they still obeyed the Lord;
he used His heartfelt words intending
that they might guide sinners toward
what is bright and bold and true,
and as He did this…why not you?
I have flagged “incarnational writing” with “Do not delete” as I will read it again and again to keep me mindful of the elegant instructional truth it offers. Thank you.
Oh! This is SO incarnational! Thank you.
Wow! Great post.
Another great post, Bob! I especially loved … “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.”
Great post! Thank you for your insight. God bless 🙂
Wendy E Middleton
God has a way of saying what we need to hear, when we need to hear it.
Thank you for being his voice today.
I appreciated your comment on serving the readers needs and not our own. I think it is easier to meet that need if you already have a heart towards service to others to begin with. At least in my own writing experience I seem directed to that purpose. My first self-published book was designed to help men in their relationships with spouse and children Using Christian songs as a guide.
I’m not sure I can always write this way but thinking incarnationally is a good way to focus on God and the needs of others.
Thanks for the post.
Amen. Merry christmas to all!