Everything That Was Written, by Jason Eaken

20 Nov

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
-Romans 15:4

Quotations are important to me. In my apartment, there are three large stacks of blank notecards and a black permanent marker, so that whenever a new one comes into my life, I can write it down. There are about 50 next to this keyboard right now – quotations from movies, books, songs, interviews, and many from The Bible.

Before cracking down on my self-imposed writing assignment yesterday – I am re-writing a screenplay from a year ago – I came across that verse from Romans. The power of its meaning overtook me, and I began to write about it. I grabbed a notecard and wrote it down. As I fumbled through my stack, though, I found another notecard with the same verse. I’ve only started this the last few months, so how did I forget that I’d written it? The truth is it’s easy to forget important things, and I took this moment as an ordained opportunity for reflection.

Though it mentions Scriptures, this verse captures how many people I know feel about writing – and also how they feel about art, but let’s not loose focus. The verse tells us that writing is there to teach us something. If that verb “teach” is too scholastic or didactic for you, then put it this way: writing helps us. Specifically, it helps us to endure what might otherwise be too overwhelming. It encourages us, either by confirming our current direction or suggesting a new one. And in both of those ways, writing gives us hope.

At the end of Romans, chapter 14 and into the beginning of 15, Paul is talking about individual roles in a Christian community. What he focuses on most is an awareness of the danger to present our own relationship with Christ as more valid than someone else’s; how we can come to view our own opinions not only as preferable but as the lone Biblical possibility. Instead, Paul tells us to build up the other people in our community and, as opposed to arguing with them, defend them as Christ defends us. He quotes from Psalm 69:9, “The insults of those who insult you fall on me.” That verse directly precedes the one at the beginning of this entry.

It’s kind of a meta-literary moment. He is commenting on the power of The Bible in The Bible (not that he necessarily knew that what he was writing would be included), in a verse whose own message of encouragement and hope also becomes the very type of message it is talking about, by itself being an encouraging and hopeful verse. It also means that the words of Scripture had made a significant impact on Paul’s life, for him to not only use that quotation but to comment on its usage. The indirect message to the Romans is that they should read the Scriptures more in order to continue to grow and understand the dynamics and interactions of a community of believers.

Words have power. Whether in a written in a book or spoken by an actor or sung in a song, they can connect us through our shared experience and mutual understanding of the human condition. It’s an overwhelmingly hopeful thing to hear a song that might as well have been written all about you. And how many people think that about that same song, even though their details aren’t the same? No matter, though, the feeling is the same. Or you read a book that seems to bend sentences and ideas around its pages in ways you never thought possible. I’m reading a book like that right now, called Infinite Jest. I have three little words from my favorite film tattooed on my left arm, so that when I write they are ever-visible to me. I’ve got the song refrain picked out for my right arm, I’m just waiting a bit before I do it.

That may seem an odd and possibly silly gesture, but the words remind me why I write. They remind me of how much those words have meant to me and they encourage me to write better when I’d rather just stop. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t keep writing, if I don’t re-write this screenplay. It’s not the end of the world if some musicians and novelists and screenwriters and everyone else who writes doesn’t do that third draft (or 13th draft) that could have made something good into something great or something bad into something good. It’s not the end of the world, but that’s not how I want to write, because that’s not what I want to read or hear. No, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, it just wouldn’t be as good, either.

One Response to “Everything That Was Written, by Jason Eaken”

  1. Robert November 24, 2009 at 11:11 pm #

    Wonderful insight, and (be assured) well-written.

Leave a Reply