During another very long, very dull telecon earlier today for work, where people way smarter than me, and way above my pay grade, were arguing vehemently about which database version to use on what operating system, I paused from capturing notes (they were just berating each other any way; it’s like having 27 children fighting over a cardboard box. Sometimes I just want to yell “Don’t make me turn this car around.”), and absent-mindedly scrolled through Twitter.
A comment on the feed caught my eye. It was in a “conversation” between two authors whose stuff I read occasionally. One, I hope to meet some day–her thinking and writing makes a lot of sense to my brain. The other best-selling author I have met, many years ago, when she was young. She is my friend’s cousin, and while on a road trip with my friend, we stopped by her house for the night. I remember she made fun of me, because I was fascinated by how many airplanes there were in the sky above Atlanta. I was from Iowa–there aren’t many planes that fly over Iowa, so I wanted to stare at the Atlanta sky most of the night. Anyway, she, too, has thought-provoking things to say–about God, about church.
I like to read what they both write, even though they both land in very different places theologically.
What they were “discussing” (if one can have a discussion on Twitter, really) was interesting, but not nearly as interesting to me as a definition that one of them threw out into the air, of the word “essay”.
So, of course, I looked it up to see if she was right.
This is what I found, at the Online Etymology Dictionary:
1590s, “trial, attempt, endeavor,” also “short, discursive literary composition” (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from Middle French essai “trial, attempt, essay” (in Old French from 12c.), from Late Latin exagium “a weighing, a weight,” from Latin exigere “drive out; require, exact; examine, try, test,” from ex- “out” (see ex-) + agere (see act (n.)) apparently meaning here “to weigh.” The suggestion is of unpolished writing. Compare assay, also examine.
I like that.
Trial. Attempt. Endeavor. From the latin “exigere”—to drive out, examine, try, test.
And, I thought about the writings of both of these authors. So very different, but both using words to try out thoughts. To drive out, require, exact, examine, try, test.
And, I thought about writing in general. I am certain I get a lot–probably the majority–of what I write here wrong. But, I can’t not write. I can’t not “drive out” conclusions and thoughts and questions; I can’t not weigh things that I see in scripture and in life.
I can’t not “try”–also a definition of the word “essay”.
Unpolished, yes. I don’t think my words will ever be polished. And, interestingly, the author’s I most admire are far from polished. C.S. Lewis can not be considered a “polished” writer. His mind meanders. He explored thoughts. He considered ideas. He weighed the things of God. That’s why I like him. It is why I refer to him as my uncle.
But, I also want to be careful-try to be careful-pray that I am careful-work to be careful-that in my trying to figure things out–which I do so by writing, like so many others who love writing–that I never forget the primacy of what Michael Horton said in an excellent “Essay” on “Interpreting Scripture by Scripture”:
When we read the Bible in the light of its plot, things begin to fall into place. Behind every story, piece of wisdom, hymn, exhortation, and prophecy is the unfolding mystery of Christ and his redemptive work.
I get much wrong. Much. On so many things. In the same vein, I can’t think of a single author or pastor or teacher–not even my favorite, C.S. Lewis, who I agree with completely (as if that even matters, sheesh, what I agree with or do not agree with matters not one iota), or who perfectly interprets or understands all the things of God.
Because, that’s impossible.
But, the ones I respect the most–the ones that I learn the most from–are the ones who essay–who try, and more importantly, in their trying, do their dead-level honest best to keep in place the only foundation that makes such “trying” worthwhile, relevant, solid and trustworthy—the foundation of the truth of scripture and the awe of the gospel.
I fail, so much, everyday at this, but it is so what I want to do, too, when I essay; when I try, when I write. I want to be better, at making sure that my trying does not stray from the foundation of the “unfolding mystery of Christ and his redemptive work.”