Written on Their Hearts: Writing, Worship, and Spiritual Formation in the Life of the Mind

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Photo by kulinetto

We’re delighted to welcome Dr. Royce Francis in a new series on writing and a new format for the ESN blog. The new format is called Masterclass, and like a Masterclass in music or performance, it provides the opportunity to learn skills from an expert, as well as exercises designed by that expert to help you deepen those skills in your own academic life. Dr. Francis is Associate Professor of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at the George Washington University, and he has extensive experience in writing and teaching writing to engineers. In this series, which will run for the length of the spring semester, he will weave together theological reflection and practical suggestions on becoming a skilled writer in general and within your field. He will also provide exercises each week to give readers a way to put the ideas in the series into practice. Join ESN for a Masterclass in writing this spring. Questions and conversation are welcome—feel free to use the Comments section to express them, or email them to http://www.intervarsity.org/contact/emerging-scholars-network.

As academics, the most important tasks we undertake involve writing. How do we approach our writing, understanding that Jesus has called us to Himself to walk with Him in the academy? In this series, I will share some practical and devotional ideas about how to approach our writing and be spiritually formed in the pursuit of the profession in which we’ve been placed.

There will be 12 weekly posts, not including this introductory post, each comprised of a Scripture focus, a reflection, and one or two actions I’d like you to try as you rethink your writing practices. The posts should usually be around 1000 words all together. I am an academic as well, so while I am sharing some of my thoughts and things I’ve learned, I’m hoping to learn from you and the wider community. So please leave comments and reach out by email.

The posts are arranged into three parts. I call them writing in the sand, writing in ink, and writing on the heart.

Part 1: Writing in the Sand

Part 1 focuses on the daily disciplines of a writer that no one sees or hears. No one except the writer has substantial experience with the products of these daily, or at least regular, disciplines. Their output or tangible results, if any, are often ephemeral and have no witnesses except for the writer herself. These disciplines are like the food we eat or the money we earn to pay rent. We work for them and even enjoy them somewhat, but they are largely consumed for the purpose of survival. Likewise, the writer must undertake certain activities just to survive as a man or woman of ideas: reading, reflective writing, and intentional time management. We may enjoy what we read, or enjoy the practice of writing, but we do them just to survive in the academy.

Part 2: Writing in Ink

Part 2 reflects how our identity intersects with our writing tasks. Ultimately, the goal of thinking deeply about our personal identities—especially in Christ and in our academic communities of practice—is to have a clear answer to the question: “Who am I serving and what is my role in this community?” When we identify who we are serving in our writing, we can begin to construct or discern the purposes for our writing projects. Therefore, the entries during these weeks focus on identifying our communities of practice, our trajectory within that community of practice, and the needs of our audience within that community of practice given our trajectory and position within that community.

Part 3: Writing on the Heart

Part 3 addresses the broader significance of your writing disciplines and products. Now that you have writing (spiritual) disciplines and you understand your role in your community, we will discuss the significance of your writing. Above all else, your concern in writing should be obedience to Christ and His leadership over your academic pilgrimage. Not impact, job prospect, or intellectual significance—obedience. In conjunction with obedience to Christ is love for God and others. Without love, your writing may lead you to professional success, but in the end it will be shown for what it is. By combining love and obedience, you will be prepared to offer your writing as worship to God. And, finally, we must remember always that published writing is action. It is an irreversible contribution to human artifice. Consequently, it is a public act of love, obedience, and worship that God has used to enforce His dominion over His Creation. In other words, if we offer our writing to God in worship, it is not only a contribution to human artifice; it is a contribution to the divine artifice. While we can be tempted to think of our writing as far less significant than what it actually is, this is simply because the focus of our desires is not rightly directed.

I hope this series blesses you as much as writing it has blessed me. I look forward to interacting with you and receiving your questions and concerns.

Peace and Blessing,


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Royce Francis

Royce is an associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering at the George Washington University. He conducts and teaches under the broad theme “SEED”: Strategic [urban] Ecologies, Engineering, and Decision making. His research and teaching interests include infrastructure sustainability and resilience measurement, risk analysis, and drinking water systems analysis. Royce is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA).

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  • William Pennock commented on January 22, 2018 Reply

    As an academic, engineer, and Christian, I am really excited for this series!

    • royceworld@gmail.com'
      royce commented on January 22, 2018 Reply

      Thank you so much, William. I’m very much looking forward to it, and am excited to learn from you!

  • lfranc12@jhu.edu'
    Lucine commented on February 2, 2018 Reply

    This series is so timely for me. I am currently a postdoc and I am trying to figure out “my role” and “my community”. Until recently, I didn’t really ask God to show me his will for my writing and academic purpose. This is really important because, eventually, you want your product to be fueled by love and purpose.

    • royceworld@gmail.com'
      royce commented on February 4, 2018 Reply

      I’m excited to hear, Lucine, about how God works to show you where to follow Him in your work and writing. It can be oppressive if we don’t see God’s leadership in the places we spend our professional efforts since they dominate our adult lives. But if you see God at work-and you at work alongside Him-you will find new freedom in the place He has you at this time. Whether you are struggling with changing directions, or struggling with shaping your contributions, remember that God is already where you are going-even if your tradition is not helpful in opening your eyes to His work in your professional area. Be blessed and encouraged. I’d love to hear where you think God is going next!

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