How can journalists reveal the interior life of their characters or interview subjects? Tom Wolfe has long advocated using three techniques — in-depth interviewing, diaries, and letters.
Perhaps Wolfe should amend his first technique by specifying that reporters ask interview subjects about their prayer life. The questions can bear sweet fruit.
Take this story in The Los Angeles Times, the last installment in the paper’s occasional series on prayer.
Reporter K. Connie Kang wrote about the history and purpose of the psalms. Her thesis is that the psalms convey humans’ relationship to God in all their variety. As an example, she told the story of the Rev. John Goldingay, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary whose wife, stricken with multiple sclerosis, has been rendered mute and largely immobile. According to Kang, Goldingay prays and thinks of Psalms 22 and 23 while caring for his bride:
Yet Goldingay says that as he pushes his wife’s wheelchair to take her to events, he feels gratitude to God for the gift of her life and her love. To many of his friends and students, their example is a powerful ministry.
For several years she was in hospice care, but in November, Goldingay was told his wife could go home “because she is not deteriorating.”
His other favorite is the 23rd Psalm, ascribed to Israel’s King David and one of the best-known verses in Western literature, with its immortal opening “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
The Psalm also contains these oft-quoted lines: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
In Goldingay’s interpretation, his enemy is his wife’s illness. Despite that, he says, God also anoints his head with oil, prepares a table before him and his cup runneth over when his wife is beside him in her wheelchair, in silent but complete understanding.
Kang’s anecdote revealed Goldingay’s humanity. To outsiders, Goldingay may appear to be suffering with his wife in silence. But she showed that Goldingay uses two psalms to deal with and overcome the pain.
Kang’s story reminded me of others I have come across. In Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman’s character prays to God frequently, including before what he knows will be his death. In The Big Test, Henry Chauncey prays before his decision to form what became the Educational Testing Service.
More reporters should follow their example.