Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Personal Essay

Eugene England commented on the value of the personal essay in the foreword of a book of his own essays:
Ten years ago I became interested in the personal essay as a separate art form. I had already been writing personal essays for ten years and had published others’ essays in Dialogue without thinking much about the particular literary and religious strengths of the form. But in studying Mormon literature of the nineteenth century and then analyzing what many Mormon writers of my generation were doing that might be part of a recognizable literary tradition, I became convinced, as I wrote in a review of the first anthology of Mormon literature, that the Mormon heritage “shows to best advantage in various forms of personal witness to faith and experience, genres in which the truth of actual living, of quite direct confession, is at least as important as aesthetic or metaphorical truth, [such as] diaries, letters, sermons, lyric poetry,… autobiography,… and increasingly, the personal essay” (BYU Studies, Spring 1975). Since that time the Mormon personal essay has indeed increased in availability and conscious quality.

This collection is an attempt to show by example what the resources of the personal essay can be in a Mormon’s search for self and community. (Dialogues with Myself)

I definitely have found a very strong sense of self and community through reading articles and blog posts online as well as essays in books. (For example, England's book referenced above. [so good!]) It's part of why belonging to a faith community is valuable (and how "folk doctrines" can actually be a positive thing!)

There is a lot of power in the personal essay -- it's part of why I write about things here actually; I have been blessed to read the thoughts and testimonies of others and had the spirit witness to me of the truth and power in their expressions of their thoughts and experiences -- and I hope to pay it forward in the same way. It's good to be reminded that there is a community of fellow-saints out there in the world struggling and staying faithful as I am.

So, all that being said, there's a collection of essays called Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons (editor: Robert A. Rees) that I stumbled across randomly while perusing some LDS articles online during stake conference (whoops!) a few weeks ago. The first essay was available to read in the free kindle sample and I loved it -- so I bought the whole book! I wish I had the self-discipline to write a little piece about every essay, because each one is unique and wonderful... but since I don't, I'll just say this: they all had many similarities, as we face many of the same challenges as Mormons in our current society, but they each also had their own unique tone and personality. Each resonated with me in it's own individual way.


We all have our different considerations for "why I stay"(or don't stay) and I think how we answer that question is always changing. This collection of essays does beautiful work as a resource in a Mormon's "search for self and community."

Anyhow, like I always tell my students -- to be persuasive, don't just TELL... you need to SHOW. So in order to show, I am going try and do at least one post about one essay soon (it not only resonated with me, but taught me a life-changing concept and included a beautiful hopeful prayer for the future.) Stay tuned!

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