This past winter I borrowed Madeleine L’Engle’s book The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth via interlibrary loan. I had to return it before I finished it and I hope to one day own it because there was so much wisdom and such a wealth of understanding and beauty in it. One of the things that challenged my thinking was her contrasting mere fact with truth. I was very uncomfortable with the idea of selecting some facts and omitting others and of her idea that sometimes facts can mask truth. I know that many times the Greeks kept important events off-stage in their dramas and that sometimes truth cannot be approached directly but only out of the corner of our eyes, so to speak. In reading Good Prose: The Art of Non-Fiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd this week, I ran across this same idea:
We know that as soon as writers begin to tell a story they shape experience and that stories are always, at best, partial versions of reality, and thus objectivity is a myth. More worrisome are people who want to pursue the other line of argument that ‘everything is subjective.’ Well, of course, everything is subjective, once you get beyond the very barest of facts. p. 84
Subjectivity simply acknowledges the presence of a mediator between the facts and the truth. That mediator is you, the writer. Acknowledging subjectivity absolves you of nothing. On the contrary, it makes you the one who has to explore the facts, discover what you can of the truth, and find the way to express that truth in prose–knowing as you look for the way to do this that you cannot be complete, that every inclusion implies countless exclusions, that you must strive to do no violence to those facts and those truths that compete for your attention. p. 85
Facts and truth: not only are they not synonymous, but they often have a very tangential relationship. Although the truth must always be found in facts, some facts, sometimes obscure the truth. Sometimes that essential effort of writing, making some things small and others big, includes making something invisible. p. 89
In reading this, I was reminded of something the Apostle John wrote in his gospel:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. — John 20:30-31
John did not include every fact of every thing that Jesus said and did although he was witness to most of it and probably knew the facts of many of the things he missed. However, he included only those facts that presented the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for our salvation.
So, I’m left with mulling over this idea of selecting facts in order to communicate truth. Is this something we do everyday? Is the lack of complete transparency with our facts a lie? Or are we wise in choosing which facts to present so that we can most clearly tell the truth of a matter?
It is something to consider…