Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sister to Sister: A Living Palace

-
Photobucket
-
Dear girls,
-
This morning I taught my freshman composition students a lesson on writing and revision. It's one of my favorite lessons (ironically, it's among their least favorite). I consider this lesson a kind of two-for-one deal: my students think they are getting a lesson on why the teacher thinks it's important to proofread and why they should begrudgingly consider whether or not each paragraph supports a thesis statement. But really, it's as much a lesson about spiritual growth as it is about writing.
-
I begin my lesson by asking my students to share with the class their strategies for revising papers. Typical answers run along the lines of "Oh, I don't change anything after a first draft. It only comes out right the first time" and "Maybe I add a few commas, or change a word or two." Sometimes I get this one: "Revising just messes up my paper."
-
When I get these answers, I like to prod my students to realize the implications of these statements. "So, you really always write a paper perfectly the first time? No changes needed at all?" I ask. I then encourage them to slash out whole pages, to unashamedly re-order passages with cut and paste. By the end of the day's lesson, my goal is to take my students from minuscule alterations of comma marks to radical, whole-scale changes of the purpose and thesis of their papers. Usually at this point they start to see what I'm driving at--the important correlation between being open to revisions in a paper and being open to life revisions.
-
I am concerned by the misplaced confidence and unwillingness to try out changes that I see in some of my students. But I am more concerned that this is often similar to the misplaced confidence that I perceive Christians taking toward God's methods of revising us--we'll allow change for a few metaphorical sentences, but then we feel confident that we are "good enough," or that true, radical revision would just mess up our image of an idealized, contented Christian life. Often we deceive ourselves into believing that we somehow got things wrong, or are being punished if God imposes major life-revisions on us, and we forget that we are in a beautiful process of being re-fashioned into an utterly new creation.
-
I like to remind myself of a quote by one of my favorite theorists, Peter Elbow: "Meaning is not what you start out with, but what you end up with." I enjoy thinking that God sees purpose in our lives in a similar way. I believe God is all about revision; and while I believe that He appreciates even the small, punctuational changes we make, my hunch is that He's out for what I call "global" revisions--whole-scale revision that leaves no part of us untouched.
-
Any form of change is scary--it's scary for my students to think about deleting a beloved, yet redundant, paragraph, and it's far, far scarier for us to think about the kinds of sweeping revisions God might bring about for us. Will He revise a career plan? Will He revise the family or community that we live near? Will He revise our plans for marriage or a family? Will He show us the need to revise faith in a loved one? Revisions are always difficult, and I can well understand why it's not our idea of a fun time. The process of revision is time-consuming, scary, and extremely messy, yet always, always necessary.
-
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis draws on a parable by George MacDonald to explain God's idea of revision:
-
"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of--throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."
-
A palace--how wonderfully unimaginable! And so, dear girls, I want to encourage you to look at your changing lives as a part of God's process towards a new creation. His command of Be Ye Perfect means just that, but it will be perfection on His terms, not ours. So, if nothing looks to you like you thought it ought to, rejoice! You're most likely in the process of becoming a palace.
-
Much love,
Sarah
-
Sarah Tillman, 26, is a graduate student in English literature at the University of Delaware where she also teaches freshman composition classes. She lives in Delaware with her husband, Nathan, and her two kittens, Venus and Diana. Her favorite things to read are poems in Middle English, novels by Thomas Hardy and Toni Morrison, and fabulously revised papers by her students.
-

2 comments:

  1. Thanks. Your post made a difference today. I felt really uncomfortable in a new situation, and I felt like maybe backing out of the opportunity, but I read your blog, and, well, I think that the uncomfortableness is meant to help change and transform me, so I just wanted to say thanks for writing it! :)

    PS I taught high school English for 10 years. :) May God bless you as you continue teaching those students with His wisdom, love, and grace.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much for posting this! I've recently started my first semester at university, not really happy with where all my hard work last year had taken me. I felt like God didn't want me here because I was unhappy and everything felt wrong. But this has really encouraged me! I'm so excited to see the palace that God has in mind for me!

    ReplyDelete