Dear One, a father desires to share some of his hard-earned convictions and half-formed ideas with his daughter, whom he hopes will come to terms with her gifting and calling. He longs for her faith journey to culminate at the peak where the 360-degree view will undo her, where she will weep for sheer joy, where she will laugh with exhilaration.
These letters are my attempt to reach out over the miles and clasp your hand as you climb. To whisper encouragement in your ear as I did when you were young. To spur you on toward love and good works. To remember our story. To lean my forehead against yours and give you my blessing: from the humble to the humble, to the glory of God. Amen.
If there is one thing I did right as a father it was to pass on to my children a love of writing. It wasn’t difficult. All I did was go to three libraries each week and check out the maximum number of books – 50 each – then take them home and read them. I got books of all genres – poetry, history, biography, science. There are so many quality children’s books out there and we were blessed with libraries that carried many of them. As my daughters grew older, they read to themselves throughout the day, moving onto chapter books like Little House on the Prairie.
I also encouraged them to write – for fun. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we would write family plays together. I was always the hero. Grandpa Schreher the villain. Grandma, the narrator. Once when we were charged with the responsibility to watch my son Caleb and he had a bowel movement in the bath tub, we wrote about that. We wrote a fan letter to Kate Di Camillo, author of Because of Winn-Dixie, and she wrote back a postcard, complete with Winn-Dixie’s paw print. As they approached their teen years, my girls wrote spiritual essays, Christian fantasy, and free verse.
While my children have not pursued writing as a vocation, their lives are shaped by narratives nonetheless. All who profess Christ as Lord and Savior hold to the truth of the Word made flesh and recorded in written form in the stories of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Christians are People of the Book and Christian writers in particular bear the responsibility to tell the truth in ways that are beautiful and life-affirming. Ben Palpant passes on to his daughter and all those who are privileged to read Letters from the Mountain simple stories that are anything but simplistic. His book takes us on a journey up peaks and through valleys, holding forth a lantern with a holy flame to light our darkness.
Palpant’s primary concern is that a writer’s work be generative. Citing the story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, he writes:
The peasant boy with his five rolls and two fish in Luke 9 offered everything. He didn’t have much, he didn’t know whom God would feed, and he didn’t know how God would do it, but he gave anyway. One forgettable boy whose one small act had a ripple effect. He is our role model.
A generative writer does not count the cost of giving herself away. She simply gives self-sacrificially out of grateful obedience to the One who has given his all for her. Using an agricultural metaphor, Palpant calls on writers to cultivate:
God’s eyes are gardener’s eyes. When you see life with his eyes, you’ll see that, like a garden, life brims with potential. It takes a special hopefulness and resilience combined with vision and wisdom to cultivate our existence effectively. You are called to that lofty work.
Generative writers find rhythms of work and rest, following the pattern of God in creation. They avoid the incessant need to be plugged into the world of social media.
Instead of walking with the wise, listening to the wise, and reading the wise, many young writers focus on how many likes their latest social-network post received. They would rather be praised than become praiseworthy.
Generative writers are people of prayer.
And this is how they pray ‘Speak, therefore, Lord, for your servant listens. Thou hast the words of eternal life. Speak to me for the comfort of my soul and for the amendment of my life, for your praise, your glory, and your everlasting honor” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ).
In an age that focuses almost solely on the Self, generative writers have a larger aim.
Generative writers aim to enrich and clarify the soul — their own souls and the souls of others. They seek wholeness in God, not simply self-fulfillment, psychological well-being, or self-reliance.
The highest aim a writer has is to love the unlovable.
As a writer, you’re especially called to love people. Banality, indifference, contempt, rage, and vapid thinking in others will make them difficult to love until you realize that those expressions mask eternal longing, deep loss, unquenched thirst, and gnawing hunger for something transcendent, lasting, and real: a God hunger.
While I do not have a daughter as a writer, I do have several writer friends. To show you how valuable I find this book, I’ve ordered a dozen copies of it to give out as Christmas gifts. What better way to celebrate the Word-made-flesh than with this collection of love letters for weavers of words.