My Advanced Composition students have given me an outstanding semester, as they often do (this is a course for those in the writing minor). The following is the letter I've enclosed in their final portfolio.
I wish I could thank each of you individually for the specific ways you have encouraged me this semester; but, since time doesn’t allow, please accept this – because what I have to say applies, as it so rarely can, to each one of you.
During a semester rife with personal difficulties that often weighed me down and made ordinary work seem almost beyond bearing, you have made this class an oasis of joy and hope. You have come prepared and eager, challenged and challenging, with humility and cheerful spirits. You trusted me, doing the assigned work with the assumption that it had a purpose whether you always understood it or not, you came with willing hearts expecting and loving to learn – and this allowed me to trust you, to know that you would learn, without my having to constantly expend energy seeking ways to make and keep you interested and involved. For that most invaluable gift, I thank you, as well as for the gifts of your prayers and encouragement, smiles in the hallway and chats in my office. Your love for your Lord has cast light on my way at many unexpected, now cherished, moments.
At the end of my first-semester freshman English class, my professor – a man not given to flattery – told me, “Keep writing; you’ve got what it takes.” Those have kept me going through many discouraging times. I do not repeat them lightly, or to just anyone, for flattery is destructive. But I can say to each of you in this class: “Keep writing.” Every one of you has the ability to do more than merely competent writing, and if you have the desire – if God has given you the desire and you have the commitment and discipline to pursue it with passion – you can serve your neighbors with this ability in profound ways. Whether your writing in the future is missionary newsletters, magazine articles, academic studies, memoirs for your family to enjoy, books read by millions, letters to the editor or letters to your grandchildren – you have the ability to touch hearts and minds through the truths you convey with the written word.
Lately I’ve been revisiting Thomas Merton’s meditations in No Man is an Island. He has much to say about this journey we’re on which helps me to remember who I am and why, and which draws me to desire the One who knows me and loves me as no one under the sun can. The past several days, I’ve kept re-reading the final chapter, “Silence.” Certain of his words seem especially apropos for those who are called to the vocation of wordsmithing:
“If our life is poured out in useless words we will never hear anything in the depths of our hearts, where Christ lives and speaks in silence. We will never be anything, and in the end, when the time comes for us to declare who and what we are, we shall be found speechless at the moment of crucial decision: for we shall have said everything and exhausted ourselves in speech before we had anything to say.”
But on the other hand:
“If we fill our lives with silence, then we live in hope, and Christ lives in us and gives our virtues much substance. Then, when the time comes, we confess Him openly before men, and our confession has much meaning because it is rooted in deep silence. It awakens the silence of Christ in the heart of those who hear us, so that they themselves fall silent and begin to wonder and to listen. For they have begun to discover their true selves [in Christ].”
May your Christmas break contain silences in which you hear the voice of the One whose coming we celebrate, calling you into oneness with Him so that He can make you more fully yourself. Take great joy always in words, but bathe your words in silence before the Word Himself, and let Him tell you when to speak before men what He has shown you, what He has made you.