Since signing a contract with eLectio Publishing earlier this week for the publication of my novel, The Fire Trail, to be released May 10, I have been rereading the manuscript, polishing, fine-tuning. Words and phrases are deleted and replaced, sentences are shaved and reshaped, paragraphs and pages and chapters judged as honestly as possible.
It would seem an appropriate work to tackle during Advent, a season of penitence and preparation as we wait for the celebration of Christ’s advent at Christmas. For like the examination of my words, Advent is also a time to examine my heart, to see what should be deleted from my life and replaced, discouraged or encouraged, torn down or shored up, what should be shaved and reshaped, what should be confessed, judged, and absolved. It is a time when we ask that God’s law be written on our hearts.
For Advent is about change, about the editing of our lives.
When I edit a manuscript I measure it against certain standards. I’ve learned and hopefully continue to learn the craft of writing fiction, the structure of the novel, the way words, story, plot, and character weave together. I try to fill my ears and eyes and mind with good writing, to absorb vocabulary and symbols and images, to improve my own attempts to hold my manuscript up to a standard. I listen to language, the rhythm and syntax and flow of dialog and description, attending to the music of words and their dance, be it a minuet or a waltz.
Editing is about choice, choice based on a standard. And for mankind those standards were given to us when God wrote his law on tablets of stone, and Moses carried them down the mountain to God’s chosen ones. That law was fulfilled, filled with fullness, made perfect, when Jesus the Christ was born in a hillside cave outside Bethlehem. That law was fulfilled with his life, his death, and his resurrection from death into life, his shattering of the veil between man and God, his making them at-one, in his Atonement.
In the season of Advent we look to Christmas, to the celebration of the birth of Our Lord. We do this by editing our lives using his standards, his rule of law, his law of love. We want to be ready to receive him into the words and pages of our days, weeks, years, to welcome him to live in our chapters and breathe life into our own stories. To be ready we need to edit ourselves.
Some of us think we have nothing to delete or add to our lives. We are fine the way we are. The problem of sin is for others, not us. It is time then to begin with beginnings: the Ten Commandments. Curiously, they are difficult to keep in today’s culture of distraction. The first four are considered sins against God; the last six are sins against one another. Today we’ll look at the sins against God. These will be challenging enough to suggest a robust humility:
- God spake these words: I am the LORD thy God; Thou shalt have none other gods but me.
- Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and show mercy unto thousands in them that love me and keep my commandments.
Do I worship false gods? Do I spend too much time, talent, or treasure on anything that is not to God’s glory, not a part of his plan for me? Has my own selfishness hurt my children, and taught them how to be selfish too, to in turn hurt their children, my grandchildren?
- Thou shalt not take the Name of the LORD thy God in vain.
The everyday use of “OMG” today is astounding. The commandment not to use God’s in vain would seem the easiest of all, and yet saying the name of God frivolously, without meaning or reverence, that is, in vain, is a common transgression. We say it. We hear it. We read it. Bestsellers and mainstream movies use this language liberally without thought to the power of words, whether spoken or written. I can edit my tongue, and edit my reading list, but it is more difficult to edit what I hear. A friend’s solution to this oral pollution was powerful: when someone says “God!” or “Christ!” my friend offers up her own prayer by adding “be praised!” The addition, I’ve found, invites holiness into the moment, making each word spoken precious.
- Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day.
For Christians, Sunday is the Sabbath, celebrating Christ’s Resurrection. I must confess I don’t always feel like going to church on Sunday, but I’m always glad I went. I’ve found that regular worship edits my soul, fine-tuning it, regulating its rhythms and guiding its dance. What happens in that simple hour of song and Scripture and sacrament is mystifying, miraculous. I am changed. Words do not fully explain it but I’ll try a few: I enter disordered and leave re-ordered, I enter guilty and leave absolved, I enter sorrowful and leave joyful, I enter depressed and leave enlightened, I enter dying and leave reborn. Keeping Sunday holy by uniting with Christ’s Body is crucial to the editing of the soul.
And so the manuscripts of Me and You are works-in-progress, to be published in Heaven, on our personal release dates, our new birth-days. There is, for me, much to work on, many areas to refashion and rebuild. The editing is ongoing, with the help of sacrament and song and Scripture, with the advent of Christ in history in Bethlehem, the advent of Christ today in the Eucharist and his Spirit in daily prayer, and the advent of Christ at the end of time.
Lord, have mercy upon us, and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee.