Poor revision, unfairly maligned due to a quirk of human nature! We beasts prefer prowling on familiar territory, rooting up the same soil with the same scratching of our forelegs. We know the terrain of a first draft: the blank page, the tentative start, the discomfort of seeing our brilliant thoughts so diminished in print, the splash of joy when the words come, the adrenaline rush of stumbling onto insights or memories or characters we didn’t know we had, the satisfaction of completion. We know that landscape and we’re quite attached to it, for good reason—it’s borne much fruit. The gifts of a first draft are worth cherishing. And while we may admit the draft is rough, we also know it sparkles in places, and we’re unwilling to diminish that sparkle with the insult of revision.
Lest I discredit the rare genius, there are those … Read More »
When it’s warm outside and the food processing plant doesn’t smell, I sit on the call center steps and drink tea in the sun. Fifteen minutes isn’t much time, but it’s enough to remind me that the world is beautiful and much bigger than my cubicle. I think this is a common struggle with work–to keep perspective day to day–seeing our work, ourselves, our coworkers and clients in light of God’s ultimate beauty and compassion. I often wonder how much place affects our ability to see clearly, if place is part of our faulty vision, or the fault comes wholly from within.
As a visual artist, Van Gogh is very concerned with sight, and he approaches the question of place mainly from two angles. Early in his letters, during an internship in England, Van Gogh writes to his brother Theo, “It is very beautiful … Read More »
In his extended essay Living the Sabbath, philosopher Norman Wirzba writes, “Though God’s resurrection power has been unleashed in the person of Jesus Christ, we still await the time when God’s ‘new creation’ is fully realized.” That time of full realization the church fathers Basil and Augustine referred to as the “eighth day,” the day in Wirzba’s words that “stands beyond creation as its final summation or conclusion.” William Carlos Williams is not often thought of as an eschatological poet, and I’ve no doubt it would be wrong to make a claim that he is, yet his little poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” when approached with an eschatological imagination, is surprisingly supple and giving.
Unlike much poetry, the pattern of Williams’s poem is visual, not rhythmic.
Read out loud, the single sentence is starkly prosaic. But its appearance on the page—four … Read More »
The words by the seventeenth-century poet-pastor John Donne were familiar: “No man is an island.” I first read this poem at the suggestion of my college English professor, who said I should also check out Gerard Manley Hopkins, another religious poet. Since then, I’ve read the book by Thomas Merton with that title and listened to a number of songs based on Donne’s words—a folk version by Joan Baez, a choral piece sung in church, even a reggae version by Dennis Brown.
On September 11, 2001, the words came back.
A few months earlier, I spotted my father-in-law’s copy of Donne’s collected works on the bookshelf and began reading it in an effort to get a handle on my grief. I discovered that Donne’s wife, Anne, died after sixteen years of marriage when he was forty-five. Evelyn died after eighteen years when … Read More »
“Is catching prophecy like catching measles?” William Taber asks this question in his pamphlet “The Prophetic Stream.” The language may be playful, but it raises legitimate questions: What role, if any, does the religious community play in the realization of prophetic gifts? Are prophetic gifts enhanced by being around people who are similarly blessed? Do prophetic gifts appear out of the blue, or are they more prone to surface in certain contexts over others?
While it is clear in scripture that the Spirit can manifest when and where She wills (see John 4 and the story of Cornelius in Acts 10), it is equally clear that the Spirit can transfer from one person to the next. Move to chapter 19 of Acts, and we discover that those meeting in Ephesus are found to be in belief about all the facts about Christ, … Read More »
In an effort to understand life as a writer, I often read artists’ and poets’ letters. This was suggested by my professors in grad school, who thought that Keats could help me complete my MFA in the allotted three years. They were right; without Keats’ elegant descriptions of his own ambition and despair, and the ways he wrote and loved through them, I may have taken five years to write sixty poems, or despaired of finishing altogether.
It seems strange, perhaps, to turn to Keats, an impoverished poet who died of tuberculosis at twenty-six, and Van Gogh, an impoverished painter who committed suicide at thirty-seven, for advice on how to live. I look to them mainly because of their courage. They were both considered failures, but they continued to work with the hope of creating something beautiful. Van Gogh, struggling with … Read More »
I am forever grateful for rubrics of devotional life. Certainly, they are foundational, dependable, and formational. But there is more. Taking my hand and uncovering pieces of mystery about His presence, God has lovingly healed more and more of the aching places in my heart. Creative spiritual practices–along with the beloved time and space of quiet with my Bible and fervently scribbled prayers in my journal–beckon me deeper into the love of God through Christ.
When I attended college, my soul was tender. A lonesomeness occupied my heart. Longing to be out of my small-town life, yet lost within the wide world outside of it, finding a campus ministry in which to be involved proved a brick-by-brick time in my spiritual journey. In those four years, I gained much ground in knowing what it meant to walk in relationship with Jesus. … Read More »
The preparation is done, the centering of mind and heart by prayer, Bible study, or walking through nature and listening.
I sit down at my brown wooden desk in a dark room. The desk lamp lights only the paper. Everything else is back in the shadows. When I begin to write, my hand moves into the light.
The work of our hands is part of creation, because God’s work continues to be done in the world through human hands. Writers put words together and create sentences and stories, bringing the unspoken into the light and giving it form.
In the shadows I wait, listening until I see an image, hear an echo, or feel a presence. Then I wait for words to come that will root this into my time and place.
As words come, I write them down. When they stop, I set … Read More »
This past year I wrote a book. I worked hundreds of hours. I wrote at least 14,000 words and cut 7,500 of them. On weekday afternoons I worked while I listened to a babysitter play with my kids on the other side of the house. I spent Saturday mornings curled up on the couch in my pajamas sculpting sentences while my husband and kids were off at playgrounds and the zoo and the beach making memories without me.
I did it because it mattered. Getting those words down on the screen and then moving them and cutting them and blessing them—that holy work of telling a good story—was the work I’ve always longed to do. I gave myself to it, even though it meant sacrificing time with my family.
Sometimes I’m still not sure whether or not those sacrifices were worth … Read More »
Recently I was asked to visit a senior English class at the school where I teach World Religions. I was excited to be entering into conversation with students not just as their familiar teacher but as a ‘real poet.’ But as I was telling students about the writing life, when I was singing the usual song about how hard it is to write, and how I have to drag myself to do it sometimes, a student I knew quite well looked at me half in annoyance and half in genuine curiosity. He asked, “Then why do you do it?”
My brain sputtered. No one had asked me that, that directly, in a long time. I could have gotten dramatic and said because I have no other choice! It must come from my soul or surely I will perish! Instead I said … Read More »