Conversation {a #poem}

IMG_20191027_153436What did I do to deserve this? is the wrong ask.

Because you didn’t.

Do anything.

There is no quid pro quo/cash economy in this wide

invisible, Kingdom-filled world. The sunlight searching

between oak leaves, the slant of green on the birdbath,

chime of silver in the breeze. It’s all gift.

Like the sloppy kiss of a two-year-old or an unexpected

letter in the mail, you are worth surprising.

Don’t quibble with your questions, paint your Creator

God as an if/then Saviour. He is a because/when God.

Because you are mine, I will pour out my gracelings

when I want, to whom I want.

Just look up from time to time and say thanks.

That is always the correct answer.

On Reading & Reciting Poetry

I have a signed copy of this lovely book from Caroline Kennedy’s Seattle appearance a few years back. I was amazed by how many of these poems she knew by heart, many of which she recited for us  that night. 

I am a terrible memorizer. Memorization is an analytical skill, a counter-intuitive trait to this Random Abstract Global thinker. However, next to trying to remember favorite Scriptures, which I’ve gotten mostly by osmosis lo, these 40 plus years, I do want to get some poetry in my memory banks. As C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” (Thanks to Johnny Anomaly at Creative Coping Podcast for that quote.)

So off we go; there are so many lovely poems to memorize.

Poem Number One-The Singing Bowl, Malcolm Guite

I began memorizing Malcolm Guite’s The Singing Bowl last March after a special retreat  where God gave me a singing bowl as a metaphor for the weekend’s experience. In an effort to remind myself often of what God had done, I committed to the process, which I discovered is very doable if the words rhyme. Meter helps, as well.

Guite’s poem is a sonnet–14 lines written in iambic pentameter, with alternating end rhymes. What is iambic pentameter you ask? For those of us not steeped in Shakespeare’s work, let’s thank Google.

“Iambic pentameter is line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable.”

Read The Singing Bowl and you’ll see what I mean.

Worry & Wonder–Holy Week

“Only in those moments of vivid experience that made her come alive was she at home in her own country.”    –Marianne in Green Dolphin Country, Elizabeth Goudge, Hodder & Stoughton, 1944

Friend T and I were chatting on Instagram the other day about my favorite author (see above). There’s no writer I can recall whose stories have deepened my vision of the Gospel and my appreciation for the beauty of language quite like Elizabeth Goudge.

But my heart is also quieted today, a heaviness at the back of my bones, weighted down by worry for the world and the myriad of ways we are messing it up. I’m afraid to read the headlines (we’ve canceled our daily paper) and when the news scrolls across my computer screen I click through to a different page. There is it the present reality of war and famine afar and the deranged antics and societal injustice at home. Big heavy sigh.

It seems foolish and insensitive to trivialize the trials of this day and age by attending to other simple joys: the gentle breezes waving fir branches outside my window or the way a chickadee alights on a bird feeder, the bright burst of daffodils against the grey. But the mundane holds a bit of miracle this week before Easter. Indeed, the miracles are there in all our days if we but look.

Attending to the richness of words in a good story is another way to pushback the unseen edges of this cool, gray day, much like reveling in the bright color of the salmon-y pink blossoms of quince bush in my back yard. (this is a friend’s clematis by the way, not my quince.)

Remarking on such simple joys may seem frivolous to some. Blossoms, books, birds.

But it’s not frivolous, no. For one, noticing the glorious passages in a good book can call us to remember that beyond the bleak and gray of the day in front of us there is Easter on the other side. For, if an author does it correctly, resurrection will show up in the language and in-between the lines of a good story.

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“All good stories lead to God,” my friend Laura opines. I’m inclined to agree.

But really, why discuss the finer merits of a passage of literature when these are such somber, serious times? Shouldn’t we be d o i n g something?” Well, yes these are somber, serious times. It is Holy Week after all, the days we dwell on Christ’s passion prior to His resurrection.

But often the wisest recourse we have is to remember to fill up our own souls with the staying power of beauty and truth.

So, I give you this, in addition to the joy of remarkable, inspirational language, there are also the right-in-front-of-us gifts: days of new sunrises, friends and family nearby to laugh and pray with, the morning’s hot coffee in a special mug, a favorite book on my lap.

These are also days when the word of God holds out hope, our very breath and life. The one and only Good Book.

When we have the companionship of others on this journey–always with its terrors and triumphs–we can often find a common denominator to lift us up and keep us in place with the anchor of a well-loved book. A favorite line or passage in a poem or paragraph, the sing-song of dialogue that makes us laugh, an author’s way with language as she paints a picture of a season’s wonder and discovery. Together we remember there is beauty above the here and now. We remind each other, “Let me tell you about something I read….you’ve got to hear this.”

When we share the good news of a great story, lines that comfort, encourage and inspire we are partners of a piece of small joy, if even for a moment.

My prayer this week and in the weeks ahead is that you would find a good story to sink yourself into (alongside the Source of all good stories, The Book of Books, of course.)

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The promise of Easter is the power to change how we see the world through God’s eyes. There is victory on the horizon, whether it’s right now or in the not yet.

May you find a good story to anchor your life, not because you want to escape this world but because in its pages you might find what you’ve been missing.

And if you need a place to start for recommendations–good fiction and Christian non-fiction, Sarah Clarkson (aka ‘BookGirl’) has her recommendations here.


Tell me what you’ve been reading~I’d love to hear in the Comments. Maybe I could read over your shoulder?

 

 

On Writing & Connection

“A book begins with falling in love. You lose your heart to a place, a house, an avenue of trees, or with a character who walks in and takes sudden and complete possession of you. Imagination glows, and there is the seed of your book.” -Elizabeth Goudge, The Joy of the Snow, 1974

Squeezed into the wooden container on my desk is a well-worn yellow file folder labeled simply, ‘Books.’  Inside are sticky notes on old journal paper, torn pieces from the corner of a calendar, typed out comments from my computer and the other jigsaw pieces of my writer’s random brain. This is the folder where I stash my “find this book!” titles. (Maybe you have notes like that?)

In 2007 I discovered a writer whose name continued to pop up in the work I was reading. After awhile, when one hears a particular person mentioned over and over again, when their writing is cited with glowing praise each time in those mentions, one considers, “well, perhaps I should look her up.”

That is how I found Elizabeth Goudge. Goudge was a British writer in the early 1900’s (1900-1984) whose astonishing descriptions and magical phrasing carries a strong message of faith throughout each and every one of her rich stories. I recently added to my Goudge collection with the arrival of eight (8!) paperback copies from a publisher in Great Britain–titles I’d been looking for high and low here in the States. I’m very grateful for online used book dealers.

In the recent delivery is a copy of  Goudge’s autobiography, The Joy of the Snow mentioned above, I have relished learning more about her life but find particularly encouraging her notes for writers. In the first chapter, ‘Storytelling’, she has this to say about inspiration:

…the great flood of light which poets and mystics pour into the world

has nothing in common with the glowworm sparks of the small fry;

except for the fact that something, or some being, must have lit it in the first place. (emphasis mine) p. 18

What I find most remarkable and deeply likable about Goudge’s storytelling is the way she embodies the Christian life without ever talking about Jesus. It is far easier, I think, to make surface declarations about faith and a relationship with Christ, spelling out for readers exactly what you mean. A truly great writer leaves a bit of illumination on the page, lighting the way for us to find the Truth buried like a treasure in between the lines.

Sacrifice, kindness, faithfulness and selflessness are just a few of the many biblical themes woven through the characters and story in Goudge’s work.

Her reactions to critics who questioned the ‘value’ of her work due to its religious (albeit often hidden) nature, she has this to say:

We all hold our faith with a certain amount of fear and trembling (even Blake wrote,

My hand trembles exceedingly upon the Rock of Ages”), and to find that others share our faith has a steadying influence, especially in these days when the Rock of Ages himself is for ever being prodded and sound to see if he is still there.

To those of us who think the tapping hammers would not sound so loudly if he was not there, the likemindedness is a very special joy. (p. 21)

If our faith in God were not based on truth, all those ‘tapping hammers’ on the Rock of Ages would indeed sound quite loudly as the echoes ring out because of the hollowness inside. (click to Tweet.)

But ours is not a hollow faith. And for those of us who write, that likemindedness with our readers, the gift of connection when we find a kindred spirit responding to our words–well, there’s nothing richer.

I imagine that is why I love my treasure trove of books by this inimitable author–her writing resounds like a glorious, pealing bell deep in my soul, with language like honey on my lips, deeply satisfying and soul-filling. Looking into the pages of each of Goudge’s stories brings a reflection of the face of my Jesus in all His many incarnations–child, vagabond, lost soul or king. Vicar, actress, schoolboy or penchant, mischievous little girls.

I take particular courage from her thoughts about writing,  especially as someone beginning later in life to channel this gift of co-creating. She had this to say about those who pick up their pen as more “mature” writers.

Words to a writer are the same as bricks to a builder. It is necessary to learn about their size and shape and how to put them in place. The imagination and vivid life of someone young, poured into a first book, or even a second or third, can sometimes shape the bricks into place by sheer instinct and good luck, but when the fire dies down a little, the building is not so easy.  The process of creation, however humble it may be, is always mysterious. (p. 21)

Encouragement in our calling or craft is a gift whenever it comes, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. Surrounding oneself with people who can speak into our lives, whether in person or in the pages of a book, is a wise investment of our time. Soul-deep connections and the confirmation that we’re on the right path are irreplaceable gifts.

Whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, my prayer is you, too, will find this gift at the right time. It may very likely be in the pages of a good book, where the author’s story is intertwined with your own.

For isn’t the Author of our lives always writing our story?

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To list all of Elizabeth Goudge’s work would take up far too much space; here’s a link instead to quotes from her books on Goodreads. Enjoy!

By the way, I write a Quarterly Newsletter–“Random Acts of Writing-Miraculous & Mundane”. The sign up is here–no spam, just some inspiration and encouragement.