Thursday, 22 January 2009

Hans Urs von Balthasar on writing and living

The other day, a friend gave me a very charming little book by Hans Urs von Balthasar, My Work: In Retrospect (Ignatius, 1993). It includes some remarkable reflections on the processes of writing – including the following, on the gap between one’s life and one’s writing:

“It is not possible to make a clean separation between [writing and living]; a book must reflect much of the meaning that the writer seeks to give his own existence, even if this meaning is rather often stamped on the book against the direct will and supposition of the author…. Whoever has truly experienced this gives up the attempt to bring his literary work into harmony with his life; when he writes, he is ahead of himself in a dream of the totality in which he would like to give his fragments a sure home; then once more he limps along behind his own self, or even creeps backward and looks around, like Lot’s wife, into a beloved image of the past, an image that entices all the more magically since it is already ablaze. Who can keep up?” (pp. 17-18).


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful description! I think this applies equally well to preachers as they prepare sermons. I tell my students that we very often are called upon to preach ahead of where we are; to proclaim the way ahead, even while we are still catching up ourselves.

steve martin said...

"I tell my students that we very often are called upon to preach ahead of where we are; to proclaim the way ahead, even while we are still catching up ourselves."

That's terrific!

The Way ahead is Christ. Proclaim Him and Him alone...even during those times when we're not totally sure...proclaim the Way ahead!

kim fabricius said...

On discipleship as playing catch-up, cf. R. S. Thomas' line in "Pilgrimages":

He is such a fast
God, always before us and
leaving as we arrive.

David W. Congdon said...


Thanks for that quote from Thomas. One of the unfortunate consequences of being in school is that I no longer have as much time to sit still with Thomas' poems, the way I used to. He's like an old friend that I've been meaning to call for months. What's worse is that he sits on my shelf, taunting me every time I pass: "Forget those papers ... listen to me instead!" And sometimes I give in. :)

Kyle said...

Kim and David,

Which of Thomas' works would you recommend to a neophyte? Which are your favorite works? Thanks.


kim fabricius said...

Hi Kyle,

I slowly accumulated several of the individual volumes/shorter collections. If I were you, I'd go straight for Collected Poems: 1945-1990, and then Collected Later Poems: 1988-2000. I've just checked: at, they are no more than £6 each ($10?).

You're in for a treat (in the way, say, Kierkegaard is a treat). Thomas ("poet of the hidden God", as fellow Welshman D Z. Phillips called him) is undoubtedly the greatest "Christian" poet writing in English since Auden.

roger flyer said...

Question for you all from the heart-

What do I do with the seasons when God is not hidden? i.e. Times when his presence is palpable and immanent...what we believers call revivals. renewals. pentecost.

He is such a fast
God, always before us and
leaving as we arrive.

What about those times when He is such a slow God, content to stay even as we tire and leave for bed.

I was once part of such a time (for almost three years) and now He's gone.

Kyle said...

Hi Kim,

I will pick those up ASAP. Thanks for the recommendations!


Anonymous said...

Great stuff Ben, and true not only about 'theological' writing of course; one of the many reasons why I love Giorgio Locatelli's Made in Italy: Food and Stories. Oh that more students' essays - and PhD theses (including mine) - showed evidence that so much was personally at stake.

An Anxious Anglican said...

Kyle: I am reluctant to disagree with Kim, as both the volumes he recommends are wonderful, but in the event that you have not read Thomas at all, and are looking for an exploratory volume, consider the more economically priced volume of with a great introductory selection of Thomas' poetry from Everyman's Library (ISBN 0460878115) at $3.95, also available from Amazon or your local Border's.

Post a Comment


Subscribe by email

Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.