What Any Writer Can Learn from Holy Week

A Look at the Passion for Writing

I was sitting on a plane, yellow highlighter at the ready, when I read one of the most influential book lines of my life. You know the kind: the ones you keep coming back to, the ones whose pages flop right open when settled on a desk. The ones that make you need to be a writer.

It was Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a true cult classic and one of my favorite books ever written (I’m sure this is far from the last time we’ll talk about it). My highlighter was ready because that’s the kind of book HOL is. Swimming around in her pages is like seashell hunting after a storm. Gems abide.

Somewhere halfway through, Danielewski writes:

“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.”

― Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

I’m a Christian. Did I mention that?

I’m probably not supposed to.

Oh well. Can we still be friends? I hope with the most earnest of hopes that we still can. I promise not to throw Bibles at you, or stop you in the mall and ask if you’d go to hell if the floor opened up right there and swallowed us both and all the beige cardigans in Coldwater Creek with one big sooty bellow. In fact, I’ve got a pretty poo-poo view of overtly Christian art (more on that, later). But it is very much a part of who I am, and how I interpret the world, which is in the short of it, what writing really is.

And so when Danielewski expounded on passion, I couldn’t help but think of The Passion. I don’t think I ever knew it meant suffering until that moment (so much for all that pricey Catholic school education). It made me think a couple of things. And seeing as its Holy Week, it seemed worthwhile to share them:

  1. It reinforced to me just how much Christ’s crucifixion embodies the broader relationship between God and Israel. I’ve heard it said once that Israel (as in, “God’s people”) is pretty much just a toxic boyfriend that the good girlfriend keeps taking back even when he’s a total doucher for the millionth time. And while it’s really funny, it’s even more true. God loves his people. The Bible is ripe with terminology to try to get us to understand just how much. They’re referred to as his bride, his children, beloved, the list goes on. Despite so much love, Israel goes on to break God’s heart over and over again. She turns her back on him completely. He suffers her unreciprocated love. He waits patiently. He suffers, watching her in her ruin. But he also endures. And by enduring, His passion for his people is ready the moment we decide to turn back around.
  2. It reminded me how much the craft of writing (or any craft), really is about suffering. There’s a reason, however melodramatic, that Hemingway said the only thing necessary to write was a willingness to sit down at the typewriter and bleed. Any writer, published or not, knows how much of writing is to suffer as opposed to flow with exuberance. Writing is difficult. Writing is lonely. Writing is confidence-shaking, identity-crushing, ego-bruising. It is rarely euphoric. Sometimes, but only sometimes.

It is, however, a love that endures. It can mistreat us, reject us, embarrass us, even cast us out completely. And when it does, which it undoubtedly will, and the inky wet dust has settled, there we will be: arms open wide and passion abounding.

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