Self-promotion vs Anonymity

I’ve recently finished reading Italian author, Elena Ferrante’s captivating Neapolitan series.  I discovered Ferrante after coming across this article:

In my writing studies, I’ve often heard  that authors must become adept at ‘shameless’ self-promotion in order to find a readership. Yet, Elena Ferrante has found international readership for her eight novels without performing a single act of self-promotion. Further, she has chosen withdrawal and anonymity. The public do not know who she is.

When her first book was published, she told her publisher,

‘I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t … True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known.’

This runs counter to our technological age where many of us put our writings ‘out there’ every day, firmly attached to our name and our #hashtags. Elena Ferrante has put me in mind of something Jesus said, that we ought to beware of practicing our piety in order to be seen by others.

There are more important rewards than being known.


Mercy, Not Sacrifice

In the late-90s when I was an ordained Christian minister working with my husband in a medium-sized church in the northern Melbourne suburb of Glenroy, my own faith and spiritual practice was undergoing a transformation. While away at a week-long silent retreat, I found myself drawn to Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:13:


mercy not sacrifice


I spent the rest of the week trying to comprehend what it meant, to come up with a theory, a premise, perhaps even a sermon idea. I saw it, at first, as another concept to understand. By the end of the week, I had realised there would be no walking away with a neat philosophy. This statement of Jesus would be something I would have to learn through the stuff of living life.

One year later, at the next retreat, I read Luke 6:36:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful

This comes hard on the heels of that very difficult saying of Jesus about loving one’s enemies. It’s a reference to God’s self-proclamation found in the Hebrew scripture in Exodus 34:5-6:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with (Moses), and proclaimed the name, ‘The LORD.’ The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

The Hebrew word translated in English as ‘LORD’, could equally be translated as ‘I am who I am’ or ‘I am who I will be’, so this self-proclamation of God contains a statement of essence – God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Therefore, learning mercy means learning how to be gracious, how to slow down the rise of anger and and how to remain resolute in my commitment to love. It also means learning fidelity, another underused word.

That’s when I realised this idea of learning ‘mercy, not sacrifice’ would be a life-long learning. That was fifteen years ago. I’m still learning.