Today’s post is by Preston Yancey, and it is truly a privilege to host his words here in my space. I hope it fills you as deeply as it has for me.
I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
Rilke, in one of his vagabond turns of verse in the collection of prosody he commended as prayer to God.
It is a line of good faith for me, one I read and know immediately I consider believed, but to tell you the reason behind the trust of the rhyme would be to violate the belief itself. I read it, pray it, and it seems the most true of things I could say. Perhaps this is danger; perhaps this is faith. I think the line hard to discern at times.
When I signed the contract for my first book, a lay-friendly exploration of the Scripture as the foundation for our theological imagination, I did not sign with a degree of presumption. I was aware, to the point of petrification, that at twenty-two it was highly likely that no one much cared what I had to say about God and, moreover, at twenty-two I didn’t have very much worth saying. But I signed the contract as an act of faith in the yet to be spoken while two of my best friends watched and whispered promises that this was meet and right and even bounded duty.
But the contract I signed came with a generous portion of time affixed to it. The book was yet to be written and I had signed for the promise of words before there were words to offer. Again, belief in those things yet to be spoken. The yet was the turning word, the tuning word, the word that was vouchsafe and promise, perhaps even covenant, which I wound like rosary up to the vaulted heavens, up unto the throne of God.
There is a misconception, I have found, by some who stand on the other side of the text. Readers as exclusive beings, taking in for leisure and not for generative work tend to think that the theleological triumph is vested in the book contract itself. The signing. The obligation to be published. This is touted as the great victory. And I concede that it is, to a point. I ordered champagne and bought an icon, updated my blog page and admitted politely when declining an invitation that I needed to work on a chapter. (At first, I did this to the point of nausea, God and my friends forgive me, but I have since abandoned the practice.)
But you can only drink so much champagne and buy so many icons before you actually have to do something about that contract you signed which obligated them to publish you as much as it obligated you to actually write something. Then comes the panic. Then comes the staying up into the wee hours and the frantic calls to best friends in which you rather frankly and ungraciously complain that everything you write is horseshit and you have no idea why anyone, ever, would have considered you a wise investment.
And you worry about revealing that too openly, because you don’t want that call from your publisher or your agent asking, kindly—too kindly—Are you alright?
I’ve wound my way to this, you see: the question of qualification.
At a certain point, we have to believe that if He has put before us a thing that needs doing, it is He who makes us able to do the thing that needs doing. I could turn and churn the frantic fear of not being able to write well for days and weeks and end up with blank, lifeless pages. And I did, for a time. But there came a moment of quiet epiphany, in the rustle whisper revelation of the Scripture.
In his epistle to the Romans, St. Paul speaks the poetics of our faith: and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
It turns there, like Rilke’s yet, all on He.
There’s a lot of theological technicality in the wording, of what we call justified and glorified, but if the Scripture can speak to us on the very surface, is it not inviting us to accept this: that He who began a good work—see, we return again to its own words—is in fact seeing it to completion; that He, who called us according to His purpose, is fulfilling the calling in us; that He, not by our works of righteousness but by His sustaining, is bringing about exactly what He would will be done?
So we are left with this, the question of qualification.
It is God who qualifies. It is God who sees through. It is God who can take credit for any good word ever printed on a page. Should I ever say anything of worth about or concerning Him, it is by His scandalous grace. And it is only by that I am able to take up a pen or place fingers to a keyboard.
Such that I believe in all that has never yet been spoken, if I grasp however feebly to trust in Him.
Preston Yancey is earning his Master of Letters at the University of St. Andrews in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts from the St. Mary’s School of Divinity. His first book about a reverential approach to Scripture, ‘Tables in the Wilderness,’ is due out with Rhizome in Summer 2013. His second, ‘A Common Faith: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again’ is being written now. Follow his writing at SeePrestonBlog.com and on twitter @prestonyancey.