Scratching Upon the Walls

By June 21, 2007 faith, language 3 Comments

Why I Write

For some time now I have wrestled with my writing. Not merely to get the words out and on the page, but I have also wrestled whether or not the words should be there at all. I have wondered if the world needed yet another person’s scribblings and random thoughts, and if it did, did it need mine?

The first part of that question is like asking if the world needs another cloud or another building or another puppy. These things will come regardless of the world’s opinion. These are a part of life, a part of our lives today. Even so, the question remains as it relates to me. Here too, I have found that the words within me have forced themselves up and out anyhow; it matters not if the world wants them. I must deal with them, work with them. Here they are. I have come too far now: to write is to be me. 

My struggle is no different from anyone else’s. It is the core question we all face—what I am called to? what should my life’s work be? will I make any impact on those around me, and will I make a lasting difference? These sometimes-fearful questions haunt until we get a settled sense of what we have been made for.

God used another writer’s words to speak peace to my heart about how He has shaped me with a seemingly endless supply of words. The story of this writer and how his words were penned is one of ongoing inspiration for me, illustrating how words carry on their purpose beyond the one who writes them down. In this story, the moving words of a poet inspired the fragile and tender heart of a patient in a mental institution, and those words then inspired a songwriter to form a beloved hymn of the Christian faith. It goes like this.1

In 1096, Rabbi Mayer, son of a cantor in the city of Worms, Germany, penned a poem of great length—the following lines were included among the 90 couplets of this grand poem:

Were the sky of parchment made, A quill each reed, each twig and blade, Could we with ink the oceans fill, Were every man a scribe of skill, The marvelous story, Of God’s great glory Would still remain untold; For He, most high, The earth and sky Created alone of old.

Some time afterward, another man, one who was a patient in a mental institution, happened upon this poem. Certainly in moments of sanity and lucidity, this weary heart understood the grace and mercy of God even unto one such as himself, in his poor condition. Inspired by the poem, this patient wrote the following stanza upon the wall of his room in the institution:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, tho stretched from sky to sky.

Although it is uncertain when the patient inscribed the words upon his wall, the inscription was found and documented by Frederick M. Lehman, a hymn writer, who was greatly moved by what he read. Mr. Lehman took note of the words and later added to them additional stanzas and a chorus, thereby forming the hymn “The Love of God.”

I love this story of inspiration building from one heart to another, over time and across lands, and how in this process, God is known ever more deeply. Each one contributed to the idea, enriching it with each pass. 

This process continues today, in all realms of creative work. As years go on, I find that much of what I have read—or even penned myself—is not truly “original.” I hear echoes and find remnants of thoughts and phrases and notions woven into much of what I read. We are all a product of what we have seen and read and heard. But each one takes that fragment and gives it a personal twist. We get to see another facet through another’s eyes. And this is priceless. 

This is my story. I have been inspired by the words I have heard and read; these have shaped me and given foundation to my thoughts. My thoughts are the accumulation of all that has been poured into my heart, soaked and absorbed within my soul.

My thoughts and phrases surely contain echoes of every book I have read, every message I have heard, every pastor I have sat under, every person who has taken the time to chat with me. I am not my own. I claim none of this for myself but willingly give myself up as a conduit.

And I wonder who might read these words, inscribed upon the walls of my heart. How might these words be the source of God’s inspiration in the future, for some other sojourner? That hope is one that keeps me scratching upon these walls.

One of my greatest blessings is that I am surrounded by dear people who have encouraged me in this task. Many hours have been spent hashing out ideas, sharing the glimpses we have gotten of God, and accompanying each other through dark places. The encouragement I have received to move ahead and go forward with these ramblings warms my heart and humbles my soul. 

These are small, most precious of graces, these moments of fellowship and sharing. In such common places we find a bit of the holy to grab onto; this turns our eyes back to God. Just as the progression of word-smithing culminated in “The Love of God” hymn, so the progression of love and care layered upon my heart by dear ones has culminated in the melting of defenses and the building of trust—producing a work that is ever-growing with each pass. Here the love of God is evident as the miracle of something new is seen and in my case, experienced. The steady love of dear ones around me is but a faint shadow of God’s, but it is wonderful. And it makes me yearn to go deeper into the depths of God’s love.

I did not grow up in the Christian culture, so even the great hymns of the faith that are common knowledge are not familiar to me. It was just a few years ago that I first heard “The Love of God” when it was included in the song-set at my church. I could scarcely voice the words before my eyes. Something profound had washed over me, and I knew the message of that hymn was for me. God used this hymn to speak peace to my wondering in regard to the words within me. It was that day that prompted me to search the background to the hymn. I knew there was a significant message for me held within those precious words.

The more I meditate on this hymn, the more I sense its theme for my life, especially in regard to my writing life. The love of God is so great and so grand that not all the books that could ever be penned of Him would be enough to praise Him. I am but one of the scribes called to dip my pen into the vast ocean of God’s love, that I might fill the skies proclaiming His goodness. Never could there be enough written about Him. Oh, but how we must try! To magnify His beauty is the highest calling. And so I am fulfilling mine: I will tell of His love until His ocean of love runs dry.

This is my patch of sky to fill. May I do so to His glory. 

O love of God how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forever more endure. The saints’ and angels’ song! —“The Love of God”

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