One true story

“There is only one book to a man,” John Steinbeck believed, only one book each author has it in him or in her to write. He considered East of Eden to be his and wrote that he’d been practicing for it for thirty-five years, more than half his life. I’ve heard it said each preacher delivers the same seven sermons in many different ways, but I believe it’s only one sermon in seven or more basic iterations, each iteration an attempt, a practice, aimed at delivering that one sermon truly, “without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture,” as Francis Bacon put it. And it’s widely said that the average worker will change careers three to seven times in a lifetime, seven being the number most often mentioned, but I’ve come to believe each career is but another variation of a person’s one essential story.

When Martha was distracted by her many tasks, Jesus told her, “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about” (Luke 10:40-42 NLT), one thing necessary or essential. Everything I’ve written has been my attempt to say that one thing, to write one true word, to live out my one particular story authentically. For most of my life I’ve circled it without coming to rest in it, practiced it without perfecting it, written one draft after another of my story while only feinting at the essence of it – afraid, perhaps, that if I tell my story truly, or most especially live it truly, someone (Someone) will see it as not good enough.

If practice makes perfect – not unblemished or without fault but teleologically, kairologically whole – then after a lifetime of practice, a satisfying and hidden perfection is emerging, and I’m coming to know my one story. Things that have obscured it are falling away, and what may be the one true thing worth being concerned about is showing itself. It won’t yet allow me to grasp or name it – it’s too shy for that – and perhaps it never will. But it seems to trust me enough to raise its veil, if for my eyes only. And the reveal is worth the wait. As an old prophet wrote, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the [wholeness found in God]” (Lam. 3:25-26).

So I will keep taking pen in hand or sitting at my keyboard and, as Stephen King said about how he writes, “flail away at the goddamned thing” until I’ve found the words, accepted the grace, and have told my one true story.

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