Letters to Peregrinus #28 - Editing is About the Soul’s Availability

Dear Peregrinus (Tuesday, 1 PM):

I imagine that all of us in the Pacific Northwest are praying that the rain that has come today to our region for the first time in almost four months will mark the beginning of Autumn’s confident habit! The incomparable Emily captures well how a dry land marks the preciousness of the individual drops of rain when the rain first arrives after a long absence.

A drop fell on the apple tree,
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser[1] sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.

The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fete away.

In your recent letter, you spoke about the burden that you feel when editing your writing. You wondered whether it would ever get easier. You got me thinking about this, because I wondered whether there might be a different way of framing this experience, which would allow you to experience, and understand, it differently.

There are the verbs “to edit” and “to revise.” They mean two very different things.

The linguistic root of the verb “to edit” is the Latin verb “to give,”[3] and that e– prefix adds the meaning “to give out.” Interestingly, the original meaning of the English verb “to edit” (c. 1791) was to publish something, to take a decision to bring into view something hidden. How different a meaning than we thought!

This verb, originally, captured a drama hidden from everyone except the author. It concerns his or her finding something worth saying to others (something secretly shown the author), and the act by the author of inner availability to that, and the emergence of his or her desire to share that with

others. How like our language, perhaps like all language, that this word has lost its moorings from its original meaning, eventually meaning only the hard work of trying to get it ready for publication – as when we hear, “You need to edit your essay.”

I know you too well, Peregrinus. Editing, in the original meaning of it, is something easy for you – not hard. You delight to find, and often you tell me of the joy you feel when the Spirit shows you things worthy to think and to wonder about. And when you find something, without hesitation you serve that, making yourself available to it, committing your time and effort to give it beautifully to others.

Matthew 13: 44 o“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,* which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 46 When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. [4]

Editing is about an event in an author’s soul – about the deep within-ness where he or she is shown something, and about the moment (happening simultaneously in you!) when the soul responds and gives itself to serve that something ... so that others can have it too. (In this you are less like Matthew’s biblical finders [see above] who keep what they find for themselves.)

Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

What is difficult is revising.

The linguistic root of the verb “to revise” is the Latin verb viso,[6] meaning “to look at attentively” with that re– prefix adding “to look at attentively again.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it this way: “To look or read carefully over (written or printed matter), with a view to improvement or correction; to improve or alter (a text) as a result of examination or re- examination.”

And though revising is a difficult and arduous task, I am wondering whether you recognize what really is at stake in this experience.

Your willingness to revise your text proves to you that the thing shown you, and to this point hidden from others, has integrity, has a beauty and value all its own. If you had not been shown its otherness, and its objective value, then you would have no point of reference for your revising. How could you know that your revision is “better” or “closer” to what is needed? You who struggle to revise are serving that integrity, demonstrating that you refuse to share obtusely with others the wholeness you were given by the Spirit to see.[7]

Old friend, the “difficulty” is about the love you have for that something other than you, and how that love is proving itself in your long effort to “say” it right and well. I am suggesting that you might consider noticing your love ... more than focusing on the “difficulty” that you experience while struggling to find the words and their proper arrangement. How many of us spend our lives looking for real chances to prove our love, to give our all for the sake of the Other! And when we have that chance, and take it, we feel complete, made whole again. God grant to you and to me regular opportunities for such “difficulty”!

I suddenly find in my memory a song by Harry Chapin,[8] whose chorus went like this:

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
And it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.

Further, revising allows you to spend time with the object of your affection – the thing shown you, given you to see by the Spirit, and to which thing you are giving your full attention and best ability. Sure, it is difficult to revise, and then to do it again. But do not overlook the joy that you feel when able to spend time with something shown you by the Spirit, and then entrusted to you by the Spirit to give beautifully to others.

I must turn my attention to the Night School, to the preparation for that this evening. Would you remember to pray for me in this work, whose considerable demands on my time are about the love that I feel when I realize how much I have received from the profound people of our great Tradition?

Thanks for always having my back, old friend.


Rick, SJ


[1] The adjective “jocose”, which Dickinson here places in its comparative degree – “more jocose than ...” or as she puts it, “jocos – er” means, in this case, that the birds are more “full of jokes, of playfulness” because of the blessing of rain after a long dry time.

[2] Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), “Summer Shower”. See a selection of her poems at: https://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poets/dickinson-emily. “Emily (Elizabeth) Dickinson (1830-1886) lived and died, unmarried and intensely retired, in Amherst, Massachusetts. The daughter of Edward Dickinson, a lawyer, Emily attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley and afterwards retired to a quite private life that, although without event, was rich in creativity.”

[3] The Latin verb “to give” has these principal parts: do, dare, dedi, datus-a- um.

o Prv 2:4; 4:7.

* In the unsettled conditions of Palestine in Jesus’ time, it was not unusual to guard valuables by burying them in the ground.

[4] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 13:44–46.

[5] Gerard Manley Hopkins (1884-1889), “The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe”. See a collection of some of his poems at: https://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poets/hopkins-gerard-manley.

[6] The Latin verb, a 3rd conjugation verb, has these principle parts: vīso, vīsere, visi, vīsus-a-um, meaning “to look at attentively, to scrutinize, to view, to behold.”

[7] I remember Bernard Lonergan, SJ (1904-1984) defined his life-project as a Jesuit and philosopher and writer as “caring about meaning.”

[8] Harry Forster Chapin (1942-1981), American singer and songwriter, whose wonderful gift of song was silenced when he was run over by a tractor- trailer in the summer of 1981.
[9] This lyric is taken from a song by Harry Chapin called “Mr. Tanner.” See
https://play.google.com/music/preview/Tj3xaoiu5vzrdo2ec6pzhbq3phe? lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics &pcampaignid=kp-lyrics&u=0#.

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