Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Sound Smart

And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)

-T. S. Eliot, from "Burnt Norton"

I've been asked more than once, "Why do you write?" "I write because I have a point of view," I answer pompously.

What twaddle! I write because I want to be read. Would I bother myself to write books and essays if nobody noticed? I doubt it.

I read widely and take copious notes. Do I read for the simple love of learning? No, my curiosity is driven by vanity. I read so I can be "well-read." I learn things so I can talk and write about them, so others will think of me as "learned." (Why else would I quote T. S. Eliot?) I labor over every sentence to get it just right-"where every word is at home"-so others will say, "How clever!" I have a book in my library entitled, How to Sound Smart. Why, but for self-importance, would I buy such a book?

Pascal said that, "Vanity is so firmly anchored in man's heart that a soldier, a rough, a cook or a porter will boast and expect admirers, and even philosophers want them; those who write well, those who read them want the prestige of having read them, and I who write this want the same
thing..." (Pense├ęs 150).

I find myself in Pascal's confession: I too "expect admirers."

And so I see that vast parts of me are yet unconverted. I want my heart to be pure, yet "shadows walk in its ruins." I have good intentions, yet shady motives haunt and harass me. I am a double-minded man. How can I justify my prose?

I find comfort in John's words: "If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things"(1 John 3:20). What should I do with my motives? Fuggedaboutem! God knows my duplicitous heart and he will deal with it in due time. In the meantime, he is great enough to use my heart as it is for good.

Amazing grace!


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