21 April 2014

When Prayer Needs the Work

When I am not writing, it is hard for me to pray.  Writing is connected with prayer in ways I don't understand.  Why is it that when I shy away from the work of letting the words out and honing them on the page I find it hard to lift my voice to heaven?  It's not the same thing, at least not always at the same time.  Prayer is a matter of joy and obedience.  Writing can easily be called a matter of joy, but what if it, too, requires obedience?  It is hard to speak in this way, but I find no other way of describing my life.

Yesterday I said I am filled with words that must be let out.  But why do I experience the world this way?  I have friends who share my environment and academic lifestyle who take things in very differently.  (One friend told me, "I think in paintings and emote in words.")  I can only conclude that God made me this way.  I believe he made me with the capacity - or even the need - to maintain a relationship with language.

If this is the case, when I choose not to commit to that relationship I am defying God.  These sound like stark terms for addressing the need to create, or make art, which my surrounding culture often seems to see as elective.  Everyone has certain basic challenges, of course: earning enough to cover one's expenses, finding meaningful connection with other human beings, dealing with hardship and mistakes.  These are the "givens" for nearly everyone.  In these terms the making of art is often labelled unnecessary, a luxury to be attained if possible that we will come to no harm for having to do without.

But if God made some of us as artists (as surely as He made some of us as mathematicians, athletes, and diplomats), are we not attempting to thwart His purpose for our characters if we refuse to make art?  Of course I'm not saying that making art is the only thing He calls upon us to do.  But if it is somehow basic to who we are, it seems reasonable to conclude that God had a reason for making us that way.  If the circumstances of our lives give us any chance at all, we must make some attempt at our art, put some effort toward discovering the reason for our gifts.  (The need to make art is the foundation of artistic gifting, it seems to me.)

Our gifts are for ourselves and for God first, before they can be shared with anyone else.  When a painter takes a canvas into a field, honoring the meadowflowers God made by painting them and taking pleasure in the effort, it seems to me that God is pleased whether any other human being sees the painting or not.  When a writer lays honest words on a page (or the metaphorical page, the screen) it seems to me God is pleased even if the piece is read by Him alone.  Sometimes I even wonder whether the purpose of some works is simply to be written, and not to be read.

Perhaps this is why it is difficult to pray when I'm not writing.  Perhaps the concentrated veiling of my heart that causes me to stop writing is also a kind of hiding from God.  He calls me to the page to be vulnerable, to say out loud the things I'm frightened of, happy about, or angered by, so that He can answer me in His own way.  He too has spoken in a book.  He too has revealed Himself in writing.

20 April 2014

Destiny and the Lonely Writer

I told myself I was going to hit "publish" on this post no matter what happened.

Here goes.

I am a writer who has gotten out of the habit of writing.  You would be justified in asking (O mysterious reader) why I call myself a writer if I'm not, in fact, producing many words.  Although I write something down nearly every day, it may just be a paragraph in a journal, something like, "I do not like the way this day is going.  I wish the weather would clear up so I could see the sky.  It feels as though the sky has gotten lower in my life too because of busyness."  These little bursts are like the trickling of a water balloon with a leak.  The words must get out.  I'm filled with them.

To be Edith is to be a writer, the way for some to be Welsh is to be a singer.  It was not a quality I chose for myself and it has not always felt welcome.  When art becomes like a runner's addiction it can get painful.  One almost wishes one hadn't built up the stamina so that one's legs needed the daily exercise.  One cannot rid them of the energy except by running.  I cannot rid myself of this poetic kind of energy except by writing.

Sometimes I have simply refused.  I have told myself I had better things to do than write what I wanted, which was fiction.  I have curled up inside and held myself tight, hiding from the need to face the page.  But it never left.  It only became cramped, sore, or worse, ingrown.  And the blank page was always waiting for me somewhere.

I am facing the page now.  I am tugging at myself, trying to let myself uncurl inside, to stretch and stand up straight, and there is pain in the process.  There has been so much tension for so long that it could not have been painless to ease out of it.  But it is the pain of healing.  I hope I am becoming wise enough to know that the pain of healing, or the pain of facing the page, is better than the pain of denial.

So I will hit "publish" on this post.  It helps me to know that my trickle of words doesn't flow out into a vacuum.  You may be out there, somewhere, the nebulous "you," the representative of the world I am trying to reach with my writer's voice.  And if you are there, you may be listening.  It might help me to know; but whether or not I know I must keep writing, sending out my voice, as though you are there, as though it does matter, even if in the end the only answer I get is an echo.  Myself is better company than none.

30 August 2013

Before the Silver Cord is Snapped

Perhaps too much has already been said about being young.  It seems to have been considered from every possible angle:  As unmitigated blessing, as inevitable struggle, as joyride, as travail, as triumphal emergence, as process of disillusionment.  One might question how many universal statements can be made about it since its environment shapes it so deeply.  Further, there is an apparent irony in studying it.  Those who have a large enough perspective to grasp the vagaries and essences of youth are usually past it; they may have dimming memory of how it felt encountered firsthand.  Those in the midst of youth have vivid, abundant experiences of it for data, but often lack the perspective to fit their experience into a large enough context.

It seems to me that a similar irony exists when the young examine any of life's "big issues."  At the time of life most formative and most crucial in the examination of life's deep considerations, the young are often (due to their youth and lack of broad experience) ill-equipped to wrestle well with these very things.  This seems proof enough that younger people need - not simply benefit from - the consistent involvement of caring older people in their lives, and I would hold tenaciously to this principle.  But let me speak for a moment of how this irony affects me and, especially, this blog.

I am still in my youth (suffice it to say I'm college-age) and find in myself many of youth's limitations.  Yet for years already I have found myself unsatisfied by investing my deepest thought or effort into anything shy of ultimate questions of reality and living.  I have a philosophical bent (and always have), but I imagine many of my fellow young people, whether or not they enjoy academics per se, feel a similar urgency in grasping reality.  I need to think through challenging questions, and having thought through them to the best of my present ability, to enter into conversation about them.  But this puts me in a dilemma.  I believe in - and feel - the human need for wise, tested, true answers to life's questions, yet I find in myself the desire to join the conversation before I can contribute much more than a few hard-won observations and numerous (possibly unoriginal) questions.

Youth is wisest when it is humble.  I felt it was important to say these things before I plunged into topics that many older and wiser people have considered with more insight and grace than I can ever hope to muster at this stage in my life. It is only because I hope that someday I will be one of those older and wiser people that I offer these thoughts.  Let me encourage my fellow young people to do the same:  Join life's great conversation now, whether you have much, little, or even nothing to say.  Come to listen and grow, to coordinate pieces of knowledge, and to appreciate the wisdom of those who have trekked these roads before us.  Never give up the pursuit of truth; never allow realism to sour into cynicism; never let matters too light to build a life on rob you of a sure foundation.  Strive to receive the mentoring of the wise so that someday you can be a wise mentor.  If this doesn't seem to us to be living life to its fullest, we have not yet grasped the terrifying gravity of living.

"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say,
'I have no pleasure in them;' before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds
return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease
because they are few, and those who look through the windows
are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut -
when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up
at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low -
they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way;
the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along,
and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home,
and the mourners to about the streets -
before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl
is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain,
or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns
to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.*
Solomon, c. 10th Century BC

*Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 ESV

11 August 2013

Color Wheel: Behind the Scenes

Note 11 August 2013:  I wrote this over a year ago, and since I plan to finish the Color Wheel series of posts, I thought it might as well see the light of day.  Note the intensive screentime I mentioned in my last post...

I thought I'd spend just a moment going behind the scenes with the Color Wheel series of posts.  Each one in the series is intentionally wordless, so the pictures will be the sole focus.  But that approach leaves me no room to comment on particular photos that caught my eye or share what crossed my mind as I was digging in Wikimedia Commons.  Hence this post.

Making connections by color is an unorthodox way of finding connections in the world.  Firetrucks and toadstools having nothing in common but red - except perhaps their mutual presence in children's literature, another surprising connection.  It's my hope that the juxtapositions startle and spark interest.  To satisfy curiosity, I link each photo to a Wikipedia article highlighting the item's history, uses, or significance.  (I really, really hope someone discovered that.  Maybe you did?  Did you click through and read something?  Did you encounter the brilliant but fragile achievement of Richard Champion and William Cookworthy or find out that the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was established in 2006?  If you want to figure out which pictures I'm referring to, you're going to have to hunt.  Hint: neither of them is green.)

As you might imagine, it takes quite a bit of work to construct a post with so many photos.  (Anyone who's tried to drag multiple photos around in a blogger post can relate.)  The first post (The Gamut of Green) took hours to put together.  By now I've streamlined the process, and it goes something like this.
1) Search Wikimedia Commons for the photos.  If you've ever wondered why the photos have no attribution, this is why: they're all in the public domain or covered by the GNU Creative License.  The hardest part about the initial search is thinking of things that are distinct to each color.  It's not too hard to come up with a green basket, but there's no special reason most baskets should be green.  I don't mind including a few items like this, but most should be things whose identities are tied to their color.
2) As I find photos, I insert them into the blogger post and size them small.
3) After all the photos are collected and sized to preference, the somewhat surprising step comes.  I copy the HTML for the post and paste it into Notepad ++ (wonderful computer/internet language editor).  Then I organize all the photos by height, so the rows won't be ragged, decide what goes with what, and place everything in the correct divs (sorry, non-geeks.  It is rather technical).
4) Finally, I copy and past the new HTML back into the post, correct any glitches, and publish.  It always comes with a feeling of relief!


Hello. I still live. The student life is a busy one (to use the closest excuse to hand). More than that I have come to see a kind of contrariness in a blog of this nature: It claims to be about engagement with the world, yet necessitates long sessions in front of a screen. Inconsistency, although a sometimes amusing fault, is no good for living.

I have considered making an end of this endeavor. Its previous attempts to get off the ground have ended nose-down in a metaphorical dune. But I have decided to make another attempt, because I'm a writer and that's what writers do; we write or we perish. Verbiage will out.

No promises as to what will go up here or when. But if anyone is still listening, please know you have my thanks for your patience and I'll try to come up with something of value to say to you soon.

30 November 2012

Briefly: Value and Visibility

A person's notoriety and importance have no direct relationship.

20 November 2012

Mindful Moment No. 2.

Last night a friend of mine decided to crash on the floor of my room to finish a paper, which was due at 8am today.  (She got it in, thankfully.)  It was for a systematic theology class and she was writing about the Trinity.  We had talked about it before - had pondered the impossibility of trying to explain a three-personed, one-natured God - and she was a little frustrated by it all.  But long after the point when I would have began yanking at my hair, she still had a fresh stream of wonder flowing through her thoughts.  Just think, she exclaimed at one point, that because of Jesus Christ's work on the cross God has invited us into the eternal love and completely fulfilled community that the three persons of the Godhead shared from time before time.  Although we have nothing to offer Him, no basis upon which to stand before Him, He decided to send His only Son for us - a member of the Trinity submissive to death so that we finite creatures could live with Him and in Him.  As she went on, she began to grow inarticulate with astonishment, and ended with "Oh! oh!" as though words had become inadequate to express the magnitude of the thought.  And in that moment I was struck by the realization that in the wonder and joy of those wordless syllables there was more wisdom - and more knowledge of reality - than in any amount of vain droning from an unbelieving philosophy.