Sunday, August 26, 2007

On Writing and Faith, and Thoughts Running Free

The sermon I gave earlier today can now be read here.

At the end of the service, we sang a stout old German peasants' song called "Die Gedanken Sind Frei," or "My Thoughts Are Free." I love the lyrics (though this translation is very different from Wikipedia's):

Die Gedanken sind frei
My thoughts freely flower,
Die Gedanken sind frei
My thoughts give me power.
No scholar can map them,
No hunter can trap them,
No one can deny:
Die Gedanken sind frei!

I think as I please
And this gives me pleasure,
My conscience decrees,
This right I must treasure;
My thoughts will not cater
To duke or dictator,
No one can deny--
Die Gedanken sind frei!

And if tyrants take me
And throw me in prison
My thoughts will burst free,
Like blossoms in season.
Foundations will crumble,
The structure will tumble,
And free men will cry:
Die Gedanken sind frei!


  1. Beautiful sermon, Cheryl. I especially loved the section which begins with Elie Wiesel's idea that "God made man because he loves stories."

    Thanks for sharing this.

    - Jay

  2. "But I believe all of the world’s troubles come down to literary interpretation, for as we know, even people who share a religion, or a denomination, or a church, can have completely different understandings of a religious text."

    So true.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Cheryl. I've recently been thinking about the interaction between faith and doubt. Is it really faith if there is no doubt? I think that's true with writing too. I'm learning that I have to be willing to explore my doubts about the story, not cast them aside or ignore them. I have to go deep enough and be willing to ask myself the questions I fear most, the questions that have no answers, in order to get to the truth of a story and its characters.

  4. I really enjoyed reading that. It hit the spot. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Lovely talk! Writing has a LOT to do with faith. Thank you for sharing!

    Also, thanks for posting the English translation of that wonderful German song. It shows up in collections of German children's songs (along with others of that era that are deeper than you'd expect in your average English collection), and I've always liked it.

  6. Kristy - I think Tennyson said that there lies more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds, which I've always found comforting.

  7. I'm glad I read this, because it gave me a lot to think about, especially as I wrestle with my own perfectionism, the need to tell the truth in a clear and genuine way, and the tension between faith and doubt, all of which are major influences on my writing right now.

    I do believe that God cares about perfection, deeply and passionately, as the expression of His own perfect nature; and I believe that His ultimate goal is to make us holy as He is holy. But I agree that sinless perfection of thought and action will not happen while we live in this world, and that God is infinitely gracious and forgiving when we come to Him. The most important thing, I believe, is for us to recognize that our life stories badly need revision, so that we will humbly listen to His editorial wisdom on where we have gone wrong and allow him to make corrections to our hearts. Unfortunately, I know that when He shows me something that's wrong with my heart and life, my own selfish impulse is often to write STET and keep going...

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  9. Wonderful, Cheryl,

    Thanks very much for sharing that.

    Best regards,

  10. I really enjoyed that. Thanks.

  11. "If they didnt make mistakes-if I didnt make mistakes-there would be no story". How TRUE.

    Your sermon is so real. It made me think. AND it wasnt superficial, with just talk and bifg words and no ideas. It was supremely genuine. Thank you for sharing that.

  12. Lovely, lovely sermon. You've got me remembering how secretly proud I used to be of my perfectionism, until a writing teacher really laid into me when I refused to read a sonnet aloud because "I'm not comfortable; it's not good enough." After she yelled "If you're going to be a perfectionist, you'll never get anything done" at me, I was mortified, and read it. It wasn't good. But that evening will help me with the blank pages for the rest of my life.

    Your words on listening and loving and righteousness vs. self-righteousness reminded me a lot of Madeleine's writing on revelation in either Walking on Water or The Rock That is Higher..."We live by revelation as Christians, as artists, which means that we must be careful never to get set into rigid molds. The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions, and we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues and thanked God that he was not like other men."..."We all tend to make zealous judgments thereby close ourselves off from revelation. If we feel that we already know something in its totality, then we fail to keep our ears and eyes open to that which may expand or even change that which we so zealously think we know."

    I love the idea of living as though the answers are "Yes", and pray for the courage to always say/live "Thank you."

  13. You said: "Of course, there’s also the opposite danger with both writing and faith: and that’s too much certainty, too much sense that you’ve got it all down."

    Uhg! I've met a few of those.

    Thanks for posting this! It was perfect timing.

  14. LOVED your sermon. I sent it to my critique group for inspiration. Thank you for these words, I can tell they were inspired.