The other day, I sat at my computer feeling a bit bleak and uninspired. Within an hour I had posted a blog entry full of words that felt like me, only at a bit of distance. A friend commented to say, ‘Your writing gets better and better!’ Other times, I work on a piece for ages and what emerges seems to move nobody but me.
Writers talk about ‘finding your voice.’ By this they mean that tone, or particular way of sounding to the reader, that is inimitably you. Writers’ voices can be a bit like masks. We try them on for size or style, judging how long we will keep them by the way others respond. Do they like funny? Or smart? Or informal? Or quirky? But in the end we have to find our true voice, the one that isn’t crafted for the reaction it will get, but for the truth it expresses.
[Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash]
As a child, I moved with my family from the south of England to the north (and later, back again). By that age, I had already developed an accent that identified me as a southerner. To the kids at school, this southern voice meant ‘snob’ and their taunts reminded me that I was different, that I didn’t speak as one of them. I might have tried to adopt their accent but by then it was too late, I was already pegged as an interloper.
Perhaps this stood me in good stead later in life, when I moved away from the UK. When I have learned other languages, my accent gives me away as a non-native speaker. People are not always sure where I am from, they just know that I am not from ‘here.’ And when I am with American friends we are all speaking the same language, more or less, but I am constantly reminded that my voice is not like theirs.
My voice, spoken or written, tells something of who I am and where I have been. It gets different reactions from those listening, depending on their own story. Similarly, I might read an author and find her words offer an affirming space to explore the ever expanding reality of God. Another interprets her word as new age mysticism and goddess worship, a little like saying, ’This accent is off, this voice does not belong.’
While a writer wants her words to find their way to the reader, her job is not to alter her voice to make it more acceptable. Even as I write this, I am aware that our cultural epoch is one in which it is difficult to be true to one’s own voice. In this playground, the wrong voice gets you labelled not as a snob, but as a bigot.
So we writers keep on trying to find our voice and, once found, to keep it. To stay true to an expression of ourselves that conveys something of our unique makeup and message, while also writing in a way that can be received.
In the Bible (still the bestselling book - or anthology of books, poems and letters - of all time) Jesus is called ‘The Word.’ It’s sort of like saying that when we get lost listening to all the other voices - the voices that tell us what they think scripture says, and how we should therefore understand it - we can go back to Jesus. Jesus is the true ‘writer’s voice’ of God. So when the ‘accent’ of the bible throws us off course, or confuses us as we try to get to know God and God’s ways, we can go back to the life of Jesus.
How did Jesus live? How did he speak? How did he interact? How did he treat people who were different from him? How can we imagine him behaving towards the things that are important to us, in a way that would be absolutely in keeping with the way he lived his life? When we go back to Jesus, we find a consistency of being that reveals to us the being of God.
[Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash]
What this means, then, is that if someone tries to tell you something about God (or about the Christian life, church life, or religious life) that is not consistent with the voice and person of Jesus, it is likely that his or her own ‘voice’ is distorting the true voice of Jesus. This is a tricky process in our lives as followers of Jesus, and learners of The Way. Even when we try our hardest and believe ourselves to be unbiased readers, we all have our own cultural lenses through which we read and interpret the bible and other books about faith. The best we can do is to keep returning to the Word, Jesus himself.
So if you, like me, find yourself longing to hear a clarity of voice in the cacophony of other voices, I recommend these two books.
Trent Sheppard (2017) Jesus Journey: Shattering the Stained Glass Superhero and Discovering the Humanity of God
Tom Wright (2011) Simply Jesus: who he was and why it matters.
These authors will point you back to Jesus himself, and help you to tune in to his voice. They’ll remind you to go back to those scriptures that are filled with Jesus’ own questions, stories, comments and prayers. And even though we have to read a translation of what he originally said, something true of God is still communicated when we focus on Jesus’ voice.
Try it. Let me know what you discover.