I recently received a copy of On Liturgical Asceticism by David Fagerberg, but, because I received it toward the end of the academic semester, I couldn’t justify reading any further than the preface, from which I remembered one passage in particular. On page xviii, Fagerberg quotes Gregory of Sinai on the three justifiable motives for writing: “to assist one’s memory, to help others, or as an act of obedience.” Any motive other than these was, for Gregory, spiritually suspect.
Although I needed no further reason to hold back on blogging than being generally busy these last two months, I could also point to the way in which this passage raised the question of what my own motive was in writing this blog: if, in some dark corner of my mind or heart, I blog because I am seeking attention for my own ego, I am doing neither myself nor my readers (however many of them there are or will ever be) any favors. If I want to get myself to blog consistently, it will, for me, require a clearer mission and greater accountability than I have thus far given myself. However, Gregory’s words offer me some guidance as to how to formulate what form of self-expression I will strive to realize through this blog.
1. To assist one’s memory:
In writing down one’s ideas in the format of an essay, even a format so informal as a blog post, one is obligated to give those ideas structure: for someone like me, who tends to move quickly from one idea to another without analyzing it completely (my cursory treatment of Fagerberg’s prologue is proof of this), taking the time to write down an idea implies making that idea clearer to myself. On one hand, publishing my thoughts on the Internet means that they will, like those embarrassing pictures on Facebook, never, ever really disappear; there’s a good chance that any thoughts here published will always be accessible to me, so I will always be able to refer back to what I write here and re-learn from my old thoughts. However, the fact that I expect that other people will be reading this blog at some point means that assisting my own memory cannot be the sole motive for writing.
2. To help others
When one writes to assist others, it seems, one must take on a certain air of authority: I know better than you, so in writing this stuff down, I’m telling you something about which you would not otherwise know or which you would not otherwise consider. I’m not sure I like that approach, though: the Internet is a rather more interactive medium than parchment.
There is a good chance that, when I take the time to write something here, it is because I think that I can provide some insight or idea that people seem to be neglecting, and so on that level, I’ll be writing to “help others,” but the fact that readers can comment or contact me directly means that my ideas are open for critique– in other words, others are free to point out the ideas that I have failed to consider as well. In publishing my ideas on the Internet, I make it possible for others to critique them and, if necessary, point out where and how I went wrong. I am not only helping others, but making it more possible for others to help me.
Gregory was clearly thinking of monastic superiors as he wrote, and that does not quite apply to me. The clearest occasion for obedience with regard to my writing comes by way of professors and their paper prompts: thus, four professors can get 45 pages from me over the space of finals week while this blog gets hardly a thought for two months. As suggested in the previous point, however, I consider myself accountable to any readers I might have: if there is a topic which others have suggested to me, I will probably try my hand at it. In making this blog public, I make myself in some sense subordinate to those who read it… which is really just a fancy way of saying that I will feel obligated to take requests from readers insofar as I have time to carefully consider the topic (which, for as long as I am on summer vacation, should probably not be an issue).
There is a further meaning to obedience here: it is only because a certain someone reminded me that I hadn’t posted in two months that I took the time to write this out. In publishing this blog, I make myself accountable to any and all readers not only with respect to the coherence and integrity of my ideas, but with respect to my commitment to maintain a blog. Even if I do not spark discussion, an occasional reminder to resume blogging may well be a good thing with respect to the first point described above.
I think that, taken together, these three motivations as laid out by Gregory of Sinai can give my some guidance as to how to proceed with this blog. At the very least, it will be an aid to my memory. It may, depending on a number of factors, become a forum for open discussion and mutual correction or simply a place for me to ramble on whatever subject is assigned to me, regardless of whether, as with most of the papers I write, these posts are read once or twice at most, judged, and soon set aside in favor of more pressing work.
As for upcoming blog posts, I have some thoughts on the subject of irony (as distinct from sarcasm) that I would like to elucidate, but I might also try to delve into the problem of romance in the context of Christianity. I’ll not explain either idea too much here lest I give away the ending, but if anyone’s reading, here’s your chance to warn me before I really go off the rails.