The Voice of Authority (and Spider Guts)

Our voice will be better developed if we spend time with our passions.

– L.L. Barkat, Rumors of Water, p.56

(For the T.S. Poetry Book Club hosted by the “thoughtful and amusing” Lyla Lindquist on Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing, by L.L. Barkat. Read Lyla’s thoughts and find links to other book club participants here.)


Jesus would have been a great novelist. He taught the way writers should write.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.
(Matthew 7:28-29)

Jesus’ teaching was different than that of other teachers—so different that the people who heard both were amazed! The difference was the “real authority,” but what gave Jesus’ teaching that real authority? Was it content, or what?

Many chapters later, I got a clue.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.”
(Matthew 23:1-3)

So, it wasn’t necessarily the content that gave Jesus’ teaching more authority than the other teachers. (He said to do what they say, so their content was good.) What gives authority to teaching is a life that backs it up.

Teaching with authority comes from practicing what you preach, yes, but it’s more than just the “doing.” I’m guessing it has to do with passion.

Jesus’ teachings were inside of him; the Pharisees’ teachings were outside of them. For Jesus, it wasn’t external sayings or traditions passed down, but living words that kept him alive and excited.

He taught truths that were already inside, and they overflowed out. He did not teach what was external to himself. I believe this how Jesus taught with authority—with author-ity.

It has to come from inside—a passion. It has to be true. Authenticity is part of authority. It’s what makes the teaching real.

It’s what can make my writing real.

The fake characters we read about will evaporate like the morning dew, but the real ones, the true ones, will haunt us for the rest of our days.

– Katherine Paterson, in her essay “Yes, But Is It True?” in A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children (p.69)

I don’t know about “voice” in writing. I don’t think I will ever be able to define or explain it. But maybe it will simply happen if, with self-acceptance and unselfconsciousness, I simply write like Jesus taught—”with authority,” from the inside, from my passions, from what is true and real.

But this scares me. To write the real stuff means to dig out and expose the raw, ugly parts. That would be quite a descent. Am I willing?

Unlike our Lord, we have not been able or willing to descend into hell. So our words of grace seep out bland and bloodless. Perhaps this is why the tax collectors and harlots are closer to the kingdom of heaven than we…

When we read fiction that is true, we do not say, “There but for the grace of God go I”—rather, “Here I am.” For in such writing we recognize our naked selves with a shudder or a laugh; sometimes, quite wonderfully, with both.

– Paterson, pp.69-70

Paterson gives another insight via the spider:

[T]he two creatures most to be pitied were the spider and the novelist—their lives hanging by a thread spun out of their own guts. But in some ways I think writers of fiction are the creatures most to be envied, because who else besides the spider is allowed to take that fragile thread and weave it into a pattern?

– Paterson, pp.70-71

What is my writing voice?

I don’t know. But let me take up my cross, follow Christ, and write from stuff spun from my own guts, the real and true inside stuff that keeps me up at night (either shuddering or laughing—or both). Then, hanging by a fragile thread, I’ll wait and listen for the sound of my own voice.