The Story of Elijah
I think one of the most instructive Biblical passages for writers and artist is found in 1 Kings 19:11-13 where God says to Elijah:
11″Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Why the Still, Small Voice?
It is deeply symbolic that Elijah found God—not in the tempest or earthquake, but in that still small voice. Elijah felt quite alone at that point in his ministry, and his experience remindes us that even a prophet of God can have trouble finding those that are willing to hear his message.
The story of Elijah is relatable to frustrated writers. As a young Christian, my attraction to art was completely intuitive. I could not explain why I perceived a spiritual power at work in the creative gift, but it was intoxicating to me.
I perceived that God had placed in all art forms the key to something very important with regard to accessing spiritual awareness. I heard that still, small voice as a young artist and I perceived that my calling had meaning. Yet to identify that meaning in rational terms took years.
Readers Don’t always Know What Moves Them
In the same way, thousands of people will be intuitively moved by a great work of literature, and never understand why it has affected them in such a profound way. It is the job of the writer to understand the deep spiritual roots of the human psyche. It is a writer’s job to discover those elements of good writing that are capable of moving a reader into a state of deep awareness and inspiration.
Perhaps the best exercise for helping a writer understand the elements of good writing is to read those works that have affected him deeply, and then to ask “why.”
The Tempest and the Earthquake
There is a place for bold expressions, but these are generally reserved for those already converted. It is not what ultimately instructs us—it is not where we usually find God.
I have gone back to books I have read in the past, trying to find a statement that was particularly impactful, only to find that the author does not actually say what I remember him saying.
This tells me that the takeaway message that stays with a reader is often created in words not as specific as the idea that ultimately takes root in the mind of the reader.
Perhaps it is sometimes best to lead your readers to find that still, small voice without actually saying the final conclusion in so many words. If you want to introduce the tempest and the earthquake, do it at the end.
Lead the reader to construct an impression in his own mind. Human nature and the promise of discovery will do the rest. It will lead him to listen to that still small voice that speaks directly to the heart.