Tag Archives: Faith & Imagination

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.

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Singing Bowl Malcolm Guite

Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

The remarkable thing to me about having this poem in my bones is that I can recall it at any time and do what the words say–slow down my breathing and stop and listen, a practice I desperately need these days.

Poem Number Two-The 23rd Psalm, George Herbert

Over the summer I kept hearing different lines from Psalm 23 in various places and finally decided to memorize it. How hard could it be? It’s only six verses. Well.

Verse one is easy, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Everybody knows that one. I repeated the next lines rather haltingly from what I could recollect but floundered after verse 3.

Then I read George Herbert’s rendering of the 23rd Psalm. Or, as he wrote it, Psalme 23. Herbert was a cleric and poet who wrote in the 1600’s and while his language is full of very old English phrases, the words are incredibly rich. I especially was pleased to find the six verses of this Psalm written in rhyme and they are now in a little plastic envelope sitting on my kitchen windowsill. The theory is I’ll memorize the psalm/poem while I’m doing dishes. So far I’ve got the first two verses down, but I am in no rush (there are always dishes to wash.)

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Maybe you’d like to read/memorize it, too?

The 23d Psalm George Herbert

The God of love my shepherd is,

And He that does me feed:

While He is mine, and I am His,

What can I want or need?

He leads me to the tender grass,

Where I both feed and rest;

Then to the streams that gently pass:

In both I have the best.

Or if I stray, He does convert

And bring my mind in frame:

And all this not for my desert*

But for His holy name.

Yea, in death’s shady black abode

Well may I walk, not fear:

For You are with me; and Your rod

To guide, Your staff to bear.

Nay, you do make me sit and dine,

Ev’n in my enemies’ sight:

My head with oil, my cup with wine

Runs over day and night.

Surely Your sweet and wondrous love

Shall measure all my days;

And as it never shall remove,

So neither shall my praise.

* desert. Dessert; what one deserves

Poem Number Three-Barter, Sara Teasdale

The folks at Tweetspeak Poetry, founded by poet and editor L.L. Barkat, are committed to keeping poetry alive in the public square. Tweetspeak began with an impromptu Twitter party where all the participants chimed in and voila, Tweetspeak was born. I wrote about my experience with Tweetspeak and some of their mischief here.

Barkat and her team are committed to folks reading and memorizing poetry and to that end they recently included the poem Barter by Sara Teasdale in their offerings to patrons and readers alike. I’m up for the challenge as well, as I enjoy the content of this poem very much–life and loveliness and all–plus, it rhymes!

Here’s what’s printed out and sitting on my desk…. I’ve got the first stanza down. Baby steps.

Barter  Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

Life has loveliness to sell,
     All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
     Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell,
     Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
     Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness,
     Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
     Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.
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Loveliness, my summer garden
Now it’s your turn. 

Find a simple poem you like, rhyming or otherwise, and add it to your memory banks. Then tell me, what are you reading these days? I’d love to hear in the Comments.

 

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–Elizabeth Goudge

“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. -The Joy of the Snow, Coronet Publishing, 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.

Writer’s Retreat Recap–Yes, He Abides

 

my friend Laura S. and I leading worship
~~~~~~~~~~~

Worship–A Pantoum
Inside, two friends bend hearts towards God
stops and starts, voices raised, a daring duo
strums and strings bring songs alive
while the Holy Spirit sings His song over you

Stops and starts, voices raised, a daring duo
carrying water for thirsty souls
while the Holy Spirit sings His song through you
deep channels, delivering life via verse and tone

Carrying water for thirsty souls
this, the joy of completing his song
channeling life via verse and voice and tone
inside, two friends bend hearts toward God.
~~~~~~~~~
My heart is so full I feel it will spill a torrent of words and you might all drown for the reading.

I still can’t quite believe what God did at our ‘Abide’ Writer’s Retreat in Leavenworth last weekend.  It was everything my friend Kimberlee and I prayed and planned for and more.
I have long sensed God was going to use this time as a catalyst, the beginning of a seed from His heart and mine to see women writers of faith encouraged and connected, uplifted in their communicating.

This resonated with others as well–the desire to not be well-known, but to be known well–by our Father and by each other.  The passion for God’s presence and a desire to hear His voice and be healed in the hearing.

Leading worship was a particular joy as I felt many times the power in the room, God’s light touch on my shoulder and tears on my face as He showed up.  We sounded like Heaven, I’m sure.

I shared revelations about what God did using Writing as a Spiritual Practice introducing the women to the idea of sitting with 2 or 3 questions and listening to what God might say. (prompted by my reading of ‘God in the Yard’.) The uncovering sparked many embers, lighting fires of discovery all around.

Kimberlee delighted us with playing with words and poetry as we each dove in to write a Pantoum–a poem form that is actually easy to use (look! I wrote a pantoum!) once you get the hang of it. We wrote our “Glory be to God’s” after Gerard Manley Hopkins and wished we had enough French berets for all.
Hearing the responses as women de-mystified the poetry process would have made my friend Laura Barkat swoon.
‘Hey, look, I wrote a poem!’  Priceless.

Shhhh…..the poets are working in the Library

Our retreat site in the Cascade Mountains of Washington lent itself well to listening and looking. The Library where we met was filled with Heaven from the moment we stepped inside. The camaraderie under the apple trees, the early morning conversations on the front porch, all were strands woven together in a beautiful piece of God’s own cloth.

Fall colors were everywhere
early morning walk, Laura S.

When we shared in our Communion circle on Sunday morning, the fruit of each person’s words fed my soul:

“I’m leaving here feeling expanded.”
“The healing is real.”
“Thank you for teaching me about poetry.”
“I feel refreshed, rejuvenated. Loved the reflection time.”
“I learned to abide in Jesus, not in my pain.
“I love opportunities like this to be together with people who all wanted to find God in the space.”
“Writing pantoums was like Legos with words.
“I enjoyed this, less because of the writing and more because of the people, wrestling through faith together, living through God’s calling in our life.”
 
As I said, my heart is full.  Here’s to Abiding.
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I longed for this little Retreat to be start to more in real life encounters, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest, opportunities to eat and talk and maybe sing. Chances to share heart songs and stories amidst tea and cookies and kids.
(Maybe there’ll be a summer picnic, who knows?)
We have a Facebook page where you can join us.
We’re starting small and building slow, reaching out and reaching up,
continuing to bring Him glory.
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The photos from ‘Light and Loveliness’ are Ms. Emily Allen, one of our Retreatants.
Thank you Emily!

Writing & Retreats, Accompanied by Angels

 Sometimes a big idea starts as a small nudge, a whisper you might ignore for the wildness of it all. You carry the dream of an idea around and wonder if someone else is hearing it, too. Then one day you jump in and ask, “Do you have a moment or two to talk about well, Something?”      
     And you make a date at the park, the one where the air show is practicing (’cause you forget when you pick the location that’s it’s August and the Blue Angels are in town) but you picnic anyway.
     And over tuna and chips you blurt out your “what would you think about????” to your bosom friend and she practically shouts (because of all that noise–remember the jets?), “Yes. I’ve been thinking that, too!!”
      And you spill out your thoughts, scribbling fast on paper (because she has four children to manage–all you had to remember was your lunch and your journal) and the dream starts to take shape.What if we did something different? Not to go against the stream, but create our own current?
     What if we found a quiet place for writing and retreating and relationships where women of faith could be encouraged to live into their gifts as Jesus grows in them?
     What if, instead of all the ‘how-to’s we gave away what we know–and Who we know–and wove that into 3 days of writing and listening and practice–and REST?                              
     What would that look like?  What would we call it?  You dub it ‘Abide’ and now that it’s named, it’s really happening….and oh….Jesus, we expect you to show up, big time.
     You find the Holy Spirit had been speaking to you both—for many, many months–about the same word–Abide. Through the same Scripture passages–John 15.  And you talk about what that might look like–a session on Lectio Divina (a phrase you’ve never heard but want to know more about) and maybe practicing poetry–even pantoums.
     And you share your passion about Writing as a Spiritual Practice–just listening to Jesus in the woods with your journal and pen and some questions.
     Then you plan and you pay and pray and you meet and over many more lunches (noisy ones, there’s all these kids…) and you cry for the connection and the peace that God is bringing with the little band of 12 women God has put together.
     Then you ask for someone to help you lead the worship and one of the attendees is a stellar guitar player and you practice (more than once) and the glory comes down like a kiss from Heaven that says, “Yes!” again.

And you know Jesus is up to something. 
Something big. As big as the sky with the angels above the trees in the blue you can’t see the end of.

And you thank God for your friend Kimberlee.
 
And you tremble in your boots at the big God that whispered the nudge
in all it’s wild goodness.
And you fly.
~~~~~~~
After eighteen months of prayer and planning, 
my friend Kimberlee Conway Ireton and I are heading over to the 
Cascade Mountains in Washington this weekend to scope out the setting for ABIDE.
This is our first writer’s retreat for women of faith,
a place of rest and relationship,
borne of a little dream from our big God.
You’ll come?