Sparked by Words

The Writer as Prophet


The great religions of the world are revealed through their prophets. The liberation of suffering in Buddhism through Siddhartha and legions of orange garbed monks. The revelation of God’s word in Judaism through Abraham, Moses, and a group of observant nomads. The salvation of the soul in Christianity through Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and later devotees. The submission to Allah in Islam through Muhammed and subsequent faithful clerics. The prophets existed in the realm of spirituality, select individuals following closely in allegiance to holy words. Those loyal people struggled to understand God’s commands, to bring truth to the quarreling common masses and peace to the world, begging us to be attentive. They showed the way forward.

Few of us are prophets, no matter how well we listen and observe the signs. Mostly we wallow down here in the trenches. Our feet stink, our armpits sweat, our eyes blur with exhaustion, and if we seek truth, it is mostly grasped in small flashes of illuminated moments between singing hymns and chopping onions for supper. We scream in frustration at our kids for whom we would lay down our lives and ignore our life partner because today is the same as yesterday. We don’t have the inclination to seriously reflect about where our souls are going, about whom we should love without question, what we should refute as corrupt thoughts. Some have decided there is no God at all, but they still must wash their dirty sheets, still gaze beyond the stars, wondering, what else is out there?

Writers fill the gaps. Pithy comments, mean observations, articulate descriptions, all meant to lead to what we have come to understand as essential rules for life down here on earth. Zora Neale Hurston wrote in Their Eyes Were Watching God, “Love is like the sea. It’s a moving thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” We sit up and pay attention to her words. Hurston’s got the goods on some kind of truth. Characters exist in an alternate fictional world that closely resembles the real one we inhabit. Ann  Patchett wrote in State of Wonder,  “Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody just keeps pulling it and pulling it.” Holy cow, we shout, that’s exactly like me, no wonder I’m so bloody!

Plots mimic the messiness of our everyday lives. Ian McEwan wrote in Atonement, “We go on our hands and knees and crawl our way towards the truth.” Yep, I know just how it feels to go through that. My knees are always bloody. My belly too. At the end of a story, writers cite the practical application of how to get along with each other, how to be compassionate, and how to love the people we hate. Khaled Hosseini wrote in The Kite Runner,  “It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out.” I’ve been running too long. We recognize ourselves in his story even if we’ve never been a child in Afghanistan. Time to turn and face the truth. 

The resolution tells the reader how it might come out if we follow the suggested format.  Nicole Strauss wrote in The History of Love, “So many words get lost…There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations.” Is that a possible answer to my problems? Our heart calms. Just put my thoughts together until they make sense, and deliver them as needed? Writers may not have God’s divine directives leading us with a heavenly flame toward eternity, but they have some sense of practical life experience to shine enough light to make sense of our human disorder. Somerset Maugham wrote in The Painted Veil, “One cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one’s soul.” Finally we know, it’s up to me to search my own soul, and Maugham showed me how.

My favorite stories are the ones where I see bits of myself, a mirror held to my inner being, even the ugly, desperate me, and espy another way to approach the way I live in the world, a better way, a more universal way of belonging. My favorite authors deliver again and again, new prophets guiding me, nudging me, warning me. Fix it, fix yourself, get it right for once. At the end of a really great book I feel enlightened, perhaps empowered. At least I want to get back into writing my own work and make it better. And that’s a good thing.

What makes you want to get back to work?


Image courtesy public images

Comments on: "The Writer as Prophet" (17)

  1. Interesting to see what drives you. As you say, the best books are the ones we relate to. Books that make connections with its readers. What drives me? Those characters knocking on the inside of my skull wanting to get out.


    • “The characters knocking inside your skull” – you know, you created those characters. You’re knocking on the inside of your own skull.
      I’m at least a generation older than you and still trying to figure out how to butter the right side of my bread. As long as I live, I’ll want to know more and want to make better.
      Thanks for reading this, Andrew.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Laughing, I know. The trick is realizing any side of the bread you butter is the right side. lol I am like you, I thirst for knowledge. I am constantly watching the History and Science channels. Or reading topics others may see as nerdish. I have a question, are you happy you started blogging again. I enjoy reading your posts.


      • What a kind thing to write, Andrew, about enjoying my posts. Thank you.

        Yes, I very much like blogging and am glad I was finally able to start again. I didn’t quit because I found it negative in any way, just that my life got taken over by something and there wasn’t time to blog. So I’m glad to be back and thirsting for whatever goodness comes from blogging.

        BTW, you figured out how good bread is with cinnamon and a bit of sugar dappled over the top of the butter, no matter what side got greased?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh Lord. I am trying to watch the carbs and you bring this up. Lol


      • Always looking out for you, my friend. I am the queen of junk disguised as food.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I must confess, I don’t want to discover a better way to live. I’m tired of always feeling I need improvement and one more person’s opinion might fix everything. I’m happy to stay fat dumb and happy that my life is good. Sigh.


    • I confess I don’t know everything, likely never will, and will probably always need improvement, but this I know for a fact: You, Jacqui, are neither fat nor dumb. I’m pleased you’re happy with your life. You’ve reached a level many don’t.


  3. Shari,
    Well said (and written!). I believe our “purpose” is to learn to express virtues. we discover them best through writers, artists, musicians, dancers – any and all who make the invisible visible.

    “All Art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the Light of the Sun of Truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvellous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose, when showing forth the praise of God.”

    “Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.”
    ― Pope John Paul II

    Andre Malraux: “Art exists for its role of permitting men to escape their human condition, not by fleeing it,
but by possessing it. All art is a means of taking hold of human destiny”


    • And Moses said unto the LORD: Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. The Lord said to him, Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go – I will help you speak and will teach you what to say. Tanahk, Exodus 4:10 – 12

      Thank you for the inspiring words, Judy.


  4. Well, my case is probably a little different since I don’t really write fiction, just short, generally true accounts of daily experiences. In my case, all that drives me is finding something funny and hoping that if I share it with other people, they’ll find it funny too.


    • Your stories reveal your unique approach to getting through each day with compassion and grace. The classic definition of a prophet is that of one who proclaims God’s will, or who exhibits inspired teachings – IOW, someone who shows an ethical path. Most of us wouldn’t fit that narrow definition but certainly non-fiction work is not left out of my more liberal outlook.

      Have you read the work of David Sedaris? Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, When You Are Engulfed in Flames are all non-fiction short story collections based on his own life. Usually there’s a slim thread connecting each story. Your work is at least as innovative and, IMHO, funnier.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you very much, Sharon. I know who David Sedaris is, but I haven’t read anything by him as yet. To be honest, I get slightly worried about looking at the work of humorists in case I inadvertently begin to sound like them. It is always encouraging to hear of someone who can make a living from writing humor, though. It sometimes feels that there’s no way of doing it, whereas his example shows that it’s not impossible at all, only very, very, very, very difficult. 🙂


      • Bun, your voice is very much your own, you’re not like Sedaris in tone at all, but I understand the worry about compromised writing by exposure to other writers. Any publication is very, very, very, very difficult these days. Though a tough pursuit, it’s not impossible and not a reason not to give it a try, especially considering your talent. This much I know for certain: you’d have a lot of folks rooting for you. Maybe not tomorrow – maybe next week you’ll think about it. (Troublemaker, aren’t I?)


  5. Finding myself in nature always seems to boost my drive to write a poem. Helps me remember I am alive and like many others.


    • Nature brings out my best as well, and I find myself comparing nature to all aspects of life. You’re also a great photographer. I’m still trying to figure out which part of the camera to point and which part to click. 😀


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