In The Act of Writing

The violence against women is the most shameful act perpetrated mainly by men. It’s common from islands to continents, from deserts to oceans. This brutality seems endless. On Christmas Eve,
30 Dec 2015 10:21
In The Act of Writing
What did Jesus write?

The violence against women is the most shameful act perpetrated mainly by men. It’s common from islands to continents, from deserts to oceans. This brutality seems endless.

On Christmas Eve, I received a manuscript in the post. It’s a collection of recollections by a friend who I’ve known since my secondary school days.

The volume is barely 100 pages and I read it in one sitting not only because the writer is known to me but because it’s writing of immense significance.

A Fiji Diary tells the recent story of Fiji: a nation’s trials and tribulations, reflected in the essays seen through the prism of a single individual as perceived in the colourful acts of several important individuals who affected, for good or ill, the destiny of his place of birth, Fiji. It’s a dateless diary of memories of a ‘newsman’.

Parts of the writing are personal; parts are profoundly political. And when the political becomes personal, a philosopher is born and a poet bred between waves of reminiscences.

But more on the MSS for another occasion—I’m supposed to write a ‘foreword’ for the book, to be published next year. I hope to that after Christmas.

Now I’m not a biblical scholar but I sometimes read the sacred scriptures of several faiths.

Often I’d read that the noblest sayings of Jesus is ‘Love the neighbour as thyself’. Or ‘Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.’

Cynics have their own version of these quotations and added witticisms in the light and darkness of their real experiences of the world.

But to me the most compassionate judgement in all written literature is this magnificent line: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

Its implications are manifold and deeply human. And here the humanity of Jesus is revealed in the face of a blood-thirsty mob and a condemned woman. The word had truly become flesh.

But what touches my imagination is that it’s the only place, as far as I’m aware, when Jesus is shown to WRITE on the ground. Often I’ve thought if he hadn’t written on the ground, would he have reached such a compassionate judgement? And so universal a message of such radiant understanding?

What did he write? — We aren’t told. And that is the beauty and mystery of this unique act of writing. We can attempt to decipher it forever but there will not be those definitive answers for which we’re ceaselessly seeking until our last breath.

And it is scribbled on the ground, where things grow and die and are reborn in the eternal cycle of Life, the most miraculous and transcendent quality of our universe.

Light shines ever through all darkness.

The prophets of the scriptures, we’re told, never wrote a word, from Socrates to more recent ones. Others have written their thoughts, as it were, sometimes by a committee, at other times divinely inspired—you can take your pick.

But what Jesus scribbled on the ground remains written and unread. And we write our little words in big books to decipher what did he really write?

This of course raises the deepest questions and quests of the written word. World civilisations are made of oral traditions—from Greece to the South Seas, from the Vedas to the girmit villages of Votualevu. The written word is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Barely, I’m authoritatively informed, less than three millennia old.



If a comparison were to be made to a single life: a person, 50 years old, began writing barely on the 364 day of his 50th year.

Now that is some revelation. Much our human civilisation is based on orality.

Look around: in this part of our world, the world’s oldest continuous culture survives but writing is barely 250 years old.

My ancestors for millennia couldn’t read and write a single word. But they had a language to communicate—this is the unique gift of being a human being, as if the ability to learn and to communicate in sounds is genetically transmitted. That is the human voice.

We’ve yet to discover a tribe under the sun, on the face of the earth, across oceans, that don’t have a ‘language’ adequate for its communication and conversation, sufficient unto itself.

Now of course we’ve the tower of Babel—but hardly any significant communication takes place. Writing has structured the realities of our world in infinite ways. We’re all trapped in the net of internet. And how some still kill the mighty whales in their steel nets.

But it is in the act of writing that our deepest thoughts are expressed: the intimacy of our flawed humanity of both spirit and body. Ah, weak is the flesh; weaker still the spirit, except in words.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was God: thus begins the Gospel of St John.

But Jesus’ comments, I feel, are much deeper, beyond the individual to the morality of a community and that of God’s sense of justice.

That he reaches these conclusions through the act of writing—writing on the ground which is radically different from writings on stones or tombstones—is the wonder of words.

Writing is a living thing—it grows both in the mind of the writer and the imagination of the reader. And leaves behind thoughts, like rock carvings, too deep for our tears or laughter.

It’s like dropping a stone in the pond and you never know which shores the ripples will touch and what life in the water or the land will be affected by those tiny waves. My name, said the young poet John Keats, is written on water.

And died in his 20s but became immortal through his poems.

Jesus, of course, comes to marvellous conclusions: the individual’s responsibility not what Moses commanded; the treatment of a woman; the morality of a mob; the idea of sin, and conscience. Very significantly he says ‘first cast a stone’, not cast the first stone.

This implies that there’re always other possibilities of punishment and redemption, of redefinition of things human in a new light. That is what makes us truly human—this capacity to grow in new directions and search for newer horizons and answers to injustice.

Most of us are more sinned against than sinning—it’s a line from Shakespeare’s greatest play King Lear where justice is the central theme.

And in his brief conversation with the woman, Jesus gives a greater sense of justice than anywhere else in literature – in a single sentence: to know how to love human beings humanly is the sum of us all.

But even Jesus says finally to the accused woman, go and sin no more. The picture is still incomplete. Where’s the ‘guilty’ man?

And what is left unsaid is far more significant than what is said. There’s always an unwritten page pulsating below the one we write. They were all convicted in their conscience. And what is this conscience?

Perhaps by not mentioning the complicit man, Jesus raises the fundamental question of the treatment of women by fundamentalists in so many societies and our daily lives. The violence against women is the most shameful act perpetrated mainly by men. It’s common from islands to continents, from deserts to oceans. This brutality seems endless.

In Australia this has become the most urgent social problem of national proportions. The myth of mateship is now constantly questioned in a society where two women are violently killed every week. But people are doing something about it, from the Prime Minister to the church leaders. The violence against women is the most nefarious activity, exceeded only by the violence against children.

Jesus had neither married nor did he have children—one doesn’t have to be married to have children. But he loved both and is loved in return.

That to me is the infinite significance of both his act of writing and what his mighty imagination and gentle hand must have written.

That is the quest for unending truth of Life by the Son of Man, and the original artist within Him.



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