autumn's garden

Writing about what I am learning – summed up best by Paul Newman: "If you have a pulse, you have a purpose."

Archive for the tag “Writing”

A Fresh Look

A friend suggested in his blog that we get off auto-pilot when reading Scripture, and take a well-known verse and pretend it is the first time we have ever read it. He suggested Psalm 23 – a staple at most funerals, a Bible reference many can even   quote, perhaps but never ponder.

Today let me look at Isaiah 33:6, a life verse for me –

And He will be the stability of your times,

A wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge;

The fear of the Lord is his treasure. (NASB)

That was quite a promise when I first read it – I read the verse mainly from a vantage point of hope what God had done for Israel He did and will do for the church, and the admonition to fear God more than my circumstances – but how personally scary were my circumstances in the early ‘90’s? Bosnia and Herzegovinian and Rwanda were the shot spots of horror; the televised reports on political scandals, gaffs and intrigues were not 24/7; nobody I knew relied on the Internet or cell-phones and I felt secure from foreign invaders.

When I consider this promise that’s comforted me for decades, how do I disengage from autopilot? Asking who, what, why, when and how helps.

  • Who is He? If He is God, how have I managed to relate to Him as if on autopilot?   I take Him for granted, as much as the personal peace and affluence that has seemed the norm of my life – compared to how so many other nations’ experiences.
  • What does stability of my times mean when terrors assault, financial markets roil, and people excuse crummy behavior as within bounds? Salvation, wisdom and knowledge – that is deliverance and freedom from something; understanding, insight, and both common use and expertise – are values even the church stumbles over. And treasure is not what we define today as a spiritual virtue – fearing God.
  • How do I have this stability, or salvation, and when?

Pondering it this morning – with all the bad stuff swirling around I won’t itemize, the promise has never seemed more vital, simple, but elusive . . . stepping on to the solid ground it offers, resting upon it, seems as unfathomable to me as it may have been to the folks who knew Isaiah.

Isaiah wrote to people who could not imagine the troubles that would befall them, their children and their nation – which would be destroyed by the Babylonians, and those who escaped the sword would have been marched hundreds of miles into captivity, most never to return; the Temple in Jerusalem – their meeting place with God — smashed. He wrote to people who forget God, so comfortable were they in their prosperity. In Babylon, they remembered his words – and still later, his words were the foundation of the apostle John’s gospel and letters.

When I first read this promise, I could never have imagined 9/11 or all that has come from it – nor, the rise of evil. (More Deadly than ISIS and al-Qaeda) I would not have believed hotels would chuck the bedside Bibles for a fantasy on bondage. (Source) I couldn’t anticipate some of the conflicts and problems we have lived through in the church, and in our own family. And I couldn’t anticipate the joy of having married kids and their kids while being 1500 miles away! Yeah – my world has been rocked a bit in 20 years

Isaiah’s great guarantee to people who were facing unthinkable ruin is freely available still; it is an infinite pledge and it is personal.

  • When my world shakes because of terrors within and without, He will not be moved. I will have all that I need, though the storehouses of personal peace and affluence run empty.
  • Will I know what to do – will I be able to do it in uncertain times?

Isaiah saw the Man who was the foundation of his faith, the Messiah. Praying for eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that says, Here am I, send me Lord – and the courage to take the next step into a hurting and hopeless world.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep Company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

 (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)

The Healing Help of Writing

Has writing helped heal you was a question posed by Heather Holleman.

Writing is a tonic and a goad.  And it is a solace.  Sir Francis Bacon observed that while reading makes a full man, and conference (discussion) a ready man, writing makes an exact man.  Writing keeps showing me how little I know about all upon which I long to be expert – and writing holds up a mirror to my heart demanding I cut out the malarkey and become teachable.  Therein I find help and hope – and a goad to keep scribbling.  (The Discipline of Writing)

Reading about writers is a handy writing tutorial.  I am working my way through Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch. Her writing was the fruit of coping with pain – emotional and physical.  Her writing is hard to read – startling, grotesque – full of disturbing images.

But, what is today’s news if not also upsetting, monstrous – full of disheartening images?   It, too, is hard to read.

A story from last year haunts me – a Dallas woman tortured her own little girl. (Dallas Morning News) It is as the same polluted well from which Ms O’Connor  drew her stories – people living out their sorry lots. What would she have said, had she known about this, a child whose young body her mother beat and scarred  — a grandmother who could not protect her own?

Ms. O’Connor wrote in Mystery and Memory that

  •  The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.

Ms O’Connor believed in God – a real God in the midst of real pain. Reading of her writing struggles reminds me how puny the bond is between my faith and writing can be. Having come to appreciate her life through reading her biography, I am not yet a fan of all her stories.  But I admire her courage – in living through the grotesque suffering that is lupus, and in her writing, describing how she saw meanness and mercy.

Writing of the diagnosis of lupus, she said to Robert Lowell, “I can with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.” (Brad Gooch, page 193) Although forced back to a difficult and increasing dependence on her mother, Ms O’Connor kept writing and encouraging other writers and friends.

 Spending hours alone in her larger front room, among the phantasms of drowning boys, garrulous Southern grandmas, and mean-killer prophets, all created within a six month span, Flannery struggled to make sense of her life . . . For this dedicated writer there was no surer sign of grace than writing a good story . . . (Brad Gooch, page 193)

 “Spinning her own life as a parable of the prodigal daughter, forced home against her wishes, and finding a consoling gift,” she concluded that running away in her twenties was a delusion – and had she not become very ill and had not come home, the delusions would have persisted. She said that the best of her writing was done in the home from which she had tried to escape. (Brad Gooch, page 193)

So, while squinting an eye, my hope gentle reader is we will keep writing and reading. And with these unique gifts, and talents, remain a mirror and lens to the crazy, wonderful scary times in which we live.

 Artists with faith, O’Connor insisted, have an even more serious responsibility to work perfecting their craft than do unbelieving artists: “your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.” The higher the vision, then, the more determined the artist must be to convince through the senses.”   (Mary Mumbach, Invitation to the Classics, pp.353-356.)

Blogging and Jane Austen

In August of 2009 I created a blog, Autumn’s Garden. ( http://autumngarden-bwsmith.blogspot.com/2009/08/we-moved-uprooting-ourselves-from-free.html) I began it, perhaps, because I doubted my capacity to write the great American novel, I have intimated I was writing since I was a senior in high school.  A friend who looked at my blog said, “You are writing the thesis of your life.”

A thesis may be an academic paper wherein the student seeking an advanced degree defends his or her research to satisfy an examining board of professors.  It is also an organizing principle in all good writing – the skilled author has a point he or she wants their audience to get.

Therein lies the rub. Literature paints pictures and portraits with words so we understand  a bit more about life and those who live it. Paint  on paper or canvas doesn’t always do what the painter expects – words on paper sometimes express ideas that weren’t exactly the same as the ideas in my head.

How can blogging help me write that novel?

My thesis has been that God is, though I struggle with doubt and unbelief; I am, and I [can] believe and do ______.    In almost two years, I have written about several propositions, and offer them  for many a kind reader’s consideration. Whether I have proved them or maintained them against objections is another matter.   The propositions have centered on the wonder of simple pleasures, amidst life’s unexpected and unsettling reproofs, my faith struggles, and my character defects – especially as the sands of the hourglass are piling higher.

As I have written, I realize how hard it is to write what is true, letting go of self-pity, excuses, exaggeration, misrepresentation, or even character assassination.

Self-absorption doesn’t make for appealing reading however.

Jane Austen — to whom I am not likening myself, exactly — has engaged her readers in the simple pleasures and trials of women and men since the early 19th century.  (http://www.pds-thirdfloor.com/austen.html) Her “thesis” throughout her gentle writing is nothing is more fascinating than ordinary women and men seeking to make a life for themselves in times that are uncertain for the financially challenged.  She says very little about herself even as she created memorable heroines who show commonsense, common decency and good humor; other characters in her novels have little commonsense, scruples or humor.

Can I tell stories about people, places and times as graciously?

Blogging shows me that writing well depends on being truthful, kind, and generous. It has forced me to think about simple stuff – true stuff.  William Makepeace Thackeray wrote: “There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.”  How much more a keyboard?

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