In a recent interview with The New York Times, writer Anna Holmes recalled a “withering note from a professor” who had given her a C- for the sin of writing in the first-person. “The I tends to crowd out everything else,” he scolded.
As writers, we learn early to beware the intruding I, which can easily fall into a mechanical repetition: I went. I saw. I liked. Worse, I trips easily into self-indulgence. In writing, as in life, it’s good that we’re warned against the heavy-footed “I.”
In The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines (Baker Books), Nathan Foster handles his “I” with a good deal of grace. On the brink of an existential crisis, Foster (a social worker) forswears buying a red convertible, deciding instead to “go saint.” What he envisions as a yearlong experiment with the 12 spiritual disciplines introduced by his father, Richard Foster, in the classic 1978 book Celebration of Discipline, turns into four. In the process, his efforts at spiritual practice travel the distance from “frustration to joy.”
In the opening chapter, “Submission,” Foster introduces us to “drafting,” and it becomes an apt metaphor for the book. “Drafting,” he writes, “is when two or more cyclists ride inches behind each other, creating a sort of wind tunnel.” On a grueling 224-mile ride—when “Mother Nature brooded from every direction, wobbling my flimsy cycle back and forth”—Foster abandons his hesitations about riding so closely in a group and submits himself to the “boredom of the paceline.” Although he didn’t ...1
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