That paragraph – the one I have just written – is pristine. Perfect. Pedantically precise even. Or so I thought. My computer program disagrees, emphasizing its point of view with a bright, green underline. I right-click the mouse. The computer’s angst shouts at me, declaring in no uncertain terms that my carefully chosen words are but a mere
FRAGMENT! (consider revising).
Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating with the exclamation mark. It exists only in my imagination – something my computer lacks. I don’t blame the computer. It is locked into a particular set of parameters. It obeys the rules of grammar, or rather, the rules of its programming. It cannot interpret the context. It cannot see the big picture; the one where I, the author, have chosen to shorten the sentence to a fragment.
A computer’s expertise extends to punctuation, not creativity. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a die-hard fan of perfect punctuation. It is the body language of the written page. What's more, punctuation's power to prevent cannibalism is unrivaled. For example:
‘Shall we eat Grandma?’
‘Shall we eat, Grandma?’
Yep. Punctuation can be a life-saver.
My contention is that knowledge and intention based on the ‘big picture’ may also influence an author’s selection and placement of punctuation marks. A wild example of this is Tim Winton's Cloudstreet, with its minimalist take on punctuation and complete absence of quotation marks. Who cares! His word choices have such beauty and impact at times that his unconventional punctuation style seems moot. But I bet both his computer and his editor had a bit of a whinge about it.
Here are a few punctuation marks I placed in a document this morning:
Let's see my computer dispute that creation according to its programmed punctuation rules!
As I ponder the power of punctuation to clarify meaning or to create nuances that improve the way a story unfolds, I realize something: Our Creator punctuates our personal progress according to His intentional, creative plan. And,
The divine Author of Life punctuates perfectly.
I, on the other hand, am inclined to operate at this level like my unimaginative computer; I get frustrated when God shortens my plans with a divine ‘full-stop’.
I can be impatient with His ‘semi-colons’ too. I don’t want to look or wait for additional information; I want to know it all now! As for colons… oh boy! When faced with a list of several things He wants to complete in me before we move forward, I'd rather skip a few in my eagerness to embrace an exciting new ‘sentence’. I want a green light so I can race ahead. I’m all too inclined to frustrate my Author by flagging a green underline and whinging, ‘fragment (consider revising)’.
But here’s the thing – we don’t get to do life over. No edits. No second or third or sixteenth drafts. Our life stories sit on the universal page, the book of life, exactly as we throw them down. Which could mean absolute disaster if they were ‘published’ as they stand. How could my life story possibly bring honour and glory to the Author of Life? Or reveal His ‘good news’story as is?
Praise God! Hindsight reveals He has been actively ‘editing’ my life's story all along, adding essential punctuation marks to slow me down, make me pause, emphasize the important things, stop me blundering on into danger, extend me, talk to me, shout a warning, cause me to question my actions and ideas, make me ponder... and His grace has coerced and confined my foolish detours into parentheses, rendering them irrelevant. What a relief!
My mother told the story of a letter she had written to my father when they were courting. At the end, she had added a postscript which contained a row of punctuation marks and the words, ‘I’m not sure where the punctuation marks should go, so I’ve put them all here. You can put them in the right places for me.’
I think I’ll take a leaf out of her book and trust God to punctuate my life according to His big picture. How about you?
Catherine Sercombe is a wife, mother of three, (they’ve grown up now), creative writing graduate and published author from Queensland, Australia. She manages an education business where she has the privilege of tutoring and encouraging students of all ages to meet their academic goals. Described in publication as a ‘writer whose work reflects an infectious love of language’, Catherine says, ‘From A to Z, surely the best writing begins and ends in God. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1-2). That’s an epidemic worth spreading.’