I can't lie: There are times when I am tempted to skip a day of my exercise in selah.
There are also times when I'm tempted to work smarter so I can skate by on a technicality. I have mulled things like setting up an editorial schedule ("On Mondays, I can nerd out on media I love, Tuesdays will be parent-related stuff, Wednesdays I can round up links ...") or writing a few blog entries in advance so I can take a night off. The truth is, if this blog were a job, I'd probably do that.
But the point of writing every night through Lent is to force myself to pause, to consider, to think and respond. It's to take thirty measely minutes out of the day for something other than hustling through my to-do list. Cramming the writing into a predetermined structure so I don't have to think, or trying to avoid the daily pause I promised to make? Those are violations of my commitment.
In the entry "Where have all the fun moms gone?" my friend Mary-Lynn makes the very valid point that my expectations are not properly calibrated; it's hard for writers to cultivate wit and perspective when they're caught in the hectic churn of near-daily blog posting. Magazine writers used to have the luxury of time to think through their argument, to work on the words, to edit it over and over with their (wo)man at the publication.
(It is amusing to me that one publishing model requires incremental attention from both the writer and the reader over a sustained period, while the other requires sustained attention from both over a much smaller cumulative amount of time. Those quick-hit blog posts are often bigger time sucks for both writer and reader than a longer, later work would be.)
I had the opportunity tonight to begin thinking about words and how powerful their arrangement can be when one has the time to really consider them and reflect on what message they should convey.
Tonight, I read Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," and I sat with a half-dozen other people and we chewed over different passages and how they resonated today. I was brought up short by this assertion:
Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
Because that was written fifty-one years ago this April, and the question of who can be considered an outsider in the U.S.A. is still unanswered.
The letter only picks up speed from there.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is a master study in persuasive rhetoric. And after I finished reading it, while the better and more dignified part of my brain was digesting the point to the letter, the jerk part that comes up with the immediate responses had two questions:
- Would it be possible to write something this compelling in textspeak?
- If this letter were published today, what set of GIFs would Buzzfeed use to break it down for its readership?
I feel like divine retribution would be entirely in order if someone were to use a still from Survivor to make the point, "One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust."
My fellow congregants and I sank into the rhythm of King's language, pointed out passages to one another, took the time and space to reflect on why the letter seems to speak to our present. We frequently paused.
At the end of the letter, King writes:
Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?
There have been reams of blog posts and articles about people's diminished attention spans in this age of technological distraction. That passage in King's letter suggests that distracted thinking is a problem that has been with us always; the only thing that changes is the agent of distraction.
King's letter encompasses an enormous cry for justice and mercy. It is also an instructive example of what extraordinary messages he was capable of crafting when forced to be still with his thoughts.