The Chrysostom Society of writers recently released Ambition, an anthology of essays about ambition by some of my favorite authors. Ambition is a hard word, a complicated word, often a scorned word in some circles, particularly writerly circles, and so it’s appropriate that the book’s cover is a scarlet “A”. I read it while on vacation/writing retreat last month and want to pass on a few pearls.
From Scott Cairns: “Ambition is only bad if it is an ambition for small things. Ambition for great things is itself a great thing, an honorable thing, and worthy of those who are shaped in the image of God, those called to acquire His likeness. I would have to say that this sort of ambition is, itself, something of a gift.”
From Erin McGraw: “As sins go, complacency is one of the delightful ones, inviting us to loaf and take our ease. Everything is fine, complacency says. There’s not need to bestir ourselves. Everything is A-OK, except maybe we could stand a refill of our iced tea while we lie out here on the lounge chair.”
From Luci Shaw: “We may be gifted, competent, creative. We want to learn as we go, and in our mature years we hope to have gained wisdom and genuineness. Like comets, we may trail behind us a plume of work well done, writing or art that seems to justify its existence. We need to ask (without knowing the answer): What is its eternal value? Was it done to God’s glory? When we invite God into every task, seek wisdom, trust the help that comes with prayer, the work itself becomes a sacrament. The immediate and the infinite join hands.”
From Eugene Peterson: “I knew I needed to find a way to keep ambition from deforming my vocation into something that I felt in my bones was squeezing the Spirit out of my life, professionalizing and depersonalizing my life into a role in which I was too busy to take time with the complexities of people or be present before God. I found it by happening on writers who I am sure didn’t have a pastor in mind when they wrote their books, but for me they were Lazarus dipping his finger into water. Over the years I found many. Here are three of the early ones who cooled my busy, overheated tongue: James Joyce, Wallace Stegner, and Wendell Berry.”
From Jeanne Murray Walker: “The summer our family went to Florence, I saw hundreds of versions of the Madonna with the Child in the Uffizi…. They embodied the Platonic thing, the big, true narrative to which my own mothering life referred: the narrative about Mary. If she had ambitions before Gabriel arrived, she surrendered them when she gave the avuncular angel her answer. “Let it be unto me as you have said,” she told him, pitching herself into mothering time. Yes, she said. I will live this life you have proposed.”
From Bret Lott: “You have everything to learn. This will be what keeps you. What points you toward humility: knowing how very little you know, how very far you have to go.” This essay, “Toward Humility,” in which Lott gives the backstory to Oprah’s selection of his novel Jewel for her book club is alone worth the price of the book.
[Photo: taken of the book's cover.]