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Saturated by Grace - Brennan Manning

“Our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter – in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a child licking a chocolate ice cream cone, in a woman with windblown hair. God intended for us to discover His loving presence in the world around us.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

The act of writing is a certain grace, and it begins – in many ways – with a sense of wonder. A writer takes in the sweetness of the world and its pain, the joy and the sorrow, the windblown moments of awe and the heart-catching times of silence. The task and the privilege of a writer is to see it all. To look upon the beauty and the shame of the world and of us who live within it, and write with wonder and fearlessness for the sake of that world. For the sake of us who live within it.

Writing, and those words written, are a dispensation of wonder … or they can be. When the words are riveted with grace, fastened with that ever-deepening sense of awe and gratitude, the result is beauty for the world. A ray of light. Of truth. But it begins with eyes open, and a heart seeking the sweet exchange of God and nature. Seeing His fingerprint, ever so lightly, tracing all things within the world. The opening and closing of a blue butterfly’s wings as it rests upon a butter-colored flower. A stone beneath the ripples of a stream, its colors brought to life by those waters. A child’s trusting smile at the promise of his parent.

A writer is beckoned to move slowly enough through the world to see these things, to reflect on the story whispering beneath the sight, and to write of them.

A New Year begins. I feel as if the past year has charged past without me having taken stock of it. But it is gone. So many moments of raw beauty and wordless wonder passed by. How many did I miss with my eyes closed, or my gaze fastened upon the weight of my daily tasks and concerns? Too many. Too many for a writer who feels the beckoning of truth and light and wonder and grace … but only when I stop and take the time to truly look and listen and see.

A New Year begins, and it begins with the desire to see the world with wonder anew. For my sake and for the sake of my family and those I love. For the sake of a God of love, who dispenses cupfuls of color and joy and laughter at every step of nature and asks us to behold His glory. And to measure it out freely to the world.

 

God, this year, let my words, my thoughts, my writings and my deeds, whisper the weight of Your glory and love, and bring glory to You. It begins with a sense of wonder at all You do and all You are. Let me move slowly, breathlessly enough to see Your works with eyes of awe and gratefulness for all that You are. Amen.

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moments of wonderSometimes my breath catches

Somewhere near my throat

And my heart leaps up

In there too

So my breath

And my heart

Mingle and touch

Like a little bit of heaven

With a whole lot of earth

Like a veil pushed aside

Or ripped from top to hem

And I see clearly

Or maybe not so clear

The transient moments of life

Weaved with the eternal essence of love

The poignant blend

Catches in my spirit

In my throat

Makes my heart leap

And spirit, soul, heart

Me

Mingle and wonder if that isn’t

Perhaps

The way it’s meant to be

 

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To Choose Reproach

There he rests

Beneath the reeds

Wind and leaf

Fell and seed

Sweeping loft

Along the banks

Given hope

Midst arthured ranks

 

Until at last

From chill is drawn

Were hours or days

Until this dawn?

Raised in wealth

And knowledge sore

Of powered realm

And slaves’ sad lore

What fealty

And to which lord

In loss of life

To fate secured

 

But then one day

In desert’s glance

When flame’s I Am

From heights advance

The scores of years

In fault now riven

Fade in the light

Of great quest driven

 

Now choosing

In the stead of fame

His staff withers

In Heaven’s game

The pledge of God

The pride of man

Crescendous clash

O’er nations span

 

In final flight

Laden, free

‘Neath dawn of blood

Tragic levy

A season’s sin

Repulse, reproach

Now sandaled feet

Lost land approach

 

Poem a Day #17 – September 3, 2015

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Serendipitous flame

Never twice the same

Source of glory

Draught of shame

Effervescent grace

For once to see your face

Knowing only

Time could not erase

Importunate, sweet song

To waking dreams belong

A mirrored sense

Of death gone wrong

Oh Dove of night

A breath’s respite

Beneath the ground

Now rise in flight

Poem A Day #4 – August 21

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Quote by Sue Monk Kidd

A few years ago, my oldest sister sent me a book. A novel titled “The Secret Life of Bees.” It was the first novel I read after returning to the United States from India, and it was a large part of what kindled a passion for writing in my heart.

It is the coming-of-age tale of a young woman, Lily, who embarks on a search to discover the truth about her mother’s death, as well as for a place to find belonging.

Of all the characters that Lily encounters in her search, none plays a more central role than August Boatwright, an African American beekeeper. Her first description of August is almost magical:

“The woman moved along a row of white boxes that bordered the woods beside the pink house, a house so pink it remained a scorched shock on the back of my eyelids after I looked away. she was tall, dressed in white, wearing a pith helmet with veils that floated across her face, settled around her shoulders, and trailed down her back. She looked like an African bride.

Lifting the tops of the boxes, she peered inside, swinging a tin bucket of smoke back and forth. Clouds of bees rose up and flew wreaths around her head. Twice she disappeared in the fogged billows, then gradually reemerged like a dream rising up from the bottom of the night.

August welcomes Lily and Rosaleen into the home that she shares with her two sisters, May and June, even though it’s clear that Lily is hiding something about why she needs a place to stay.

August takes Lily under her wing and begins to train her in beekeeping. She teaches Lily about bees, yet she also tells her stories that seem to have a point and make Lily think that August knows more about her than she’s letting on. As they work, August acts as a sort of mentor.

During one conversation, when Lily asks August why she painted their house pink, August answers that it was her sister’s choice. She then says, “Some things don’t matter that much, Lily. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person’s heart—now, that matters. The whole problem with people is … they know what matters, but they don’t choose it. … The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.”

Lily describes August as someone who “chewed more than she bit off… One minute she was talking to you and the next she had slipped into a private world where she turned her thoughts over and over, digesting stuff most people would choke on.”

August was a perceptive character, at one point telling Lily, “There’s a fullness of time for things… You have to know when to prod and when to be quiet, when to let things take their course.”

However, she is not a placid character. One of my favorite descriptions of August is when Lily observes, “Looking at her eyes, I could see a fire inside them. It was a hearth fire you could depend on, you could draw up to and get warm by if you were cold, or cook something on that would feed the emptiness in you.”

August takes on the role of mentor for Lily, a motherly figure with a strong character who expresses a lot of deep truths with the things that she tells Lily. The quote on the power point is one of my favorite in the book, where August says “When you get down to it, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love—but to persist in love.”

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Ernest HemingwayA Place to Call Home

While reading “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway, it is not difficult to distinguish between the two waiters although neither of them have names in the story. It is more their tone and their viewpoint (different from “point of view”) that makes them unique characters. One waiter, the older one, speaks with more understanding and introspection as well as retrospection. The younger waiter is impatient and focused on only one thing: closing up and going home.

The story brings out a difference between generations. The younger man only sees his desires and his personal point of view. He has no concern for the old, deaf man or for his coworker. When the older waiter speaks in a nostalgic way, the younger waiter completely misses it and continues speaking as if the older man hadn’t said anything at all. You almost wish he would have noted what his friend said, that he would have listened to not only his words, but taken note of his regret and listened with his heart.

The older waiter, perhaps realizing that he is not too far away from being like the old, deaf man, can easily put himself in his shoes. He knows what it’s like to be alone, to need a place to feel home … because home is no longer home for him. We don’t hear the whole story why, but we wonder; we empathize not with the younger man who has a wife to go home to, but with the older man whose tone draws us in and helps us feel our own humanity and frailty, our own need for a place to call home.

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The StrangerAs I mentioned in a blog post a couple weeks ago, I read The Stranger, by Albert Camus, in a Literature class this semester. The professor asked us to keep a dialectical journal. I already posted my journal of the first part. Here is my dialogue with the second half of the book.

 

Page 63 “Right after my arrest I was questioned several times, but it was just so they could find out who I was, which didn’t take long. The first time, at the police station, nobody seemed very interested in my case. A week later, however the examining magistrate looked me over with curiosity.”

The author seems every bit as unconcerned as the narrator. He ignores details the reader would obviously be interested in, such as what happens immediately after the murder, what was Marie’s response … even what his own response was (if anything). Most likely, since the narrative character doesn’t care about much of anything, his response was most likely as frustrating as everything else I’ve read about him so far.

 

Page 63 “Then he wanted to know if I had hired an attorney. I admitted I hadn’t and inquired whether it was really necessary to have one.”

Mersault hasn’t gotten an attorney and wonders whether he really needs one; this is after a week has passed. What has he been doing all week? If the author doesn’t care to fill in these important gaps that the reader would clearly like to know, why should the reader care to finish the story?

Page 65 “I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything.”

I’m sorry, what??? I don’t know if I’m more frustrated with the character – which means that the author did a very good job of creating an unlikeable character – or more frustrated with the author for writing such a disagreeable character into existence. At first, I thought Mersault must have narcissistic personality disorder. But it is more that he has absolutely no emotions whatsoever. Even Spock was far more emotional (and far more likeable) than this narrative character.

 

Page 68 “He was waving his crucifix almost directly over my head. To tell the truth, I had found it very hard to follow his reasoning, first because I was hot and there were big flies in his office that kept landing on my face, and also because he was scaring me a little. … But from across the table he had already thrust the crucifix in my face and was screaming irrationally, ‘I am a Christian.’”

I think I realize what I do not like about this character. He is so dispassionate that he is altogether unnatural as a character. Every character has problems, but he seems so unemotional that he has no soul whatsoever. And of course every contemporary story needs the dangerous “religious freak.” This one brandishes a crucifix, forcing it in Mersault’s face and screaming irrationally. All Mersault can think of is the heat and how to get rid of someone he doesn’t want to listen to. It’s kind of interesting (and also irritating) that from the standpoint of faith, this character does seem almost soulless, if that were possible – which it isn’t. There is no depth. Even in this charged encounter, he is more concerned with the heat and the flies.

 

Page 78 “I thought it was unfair treatment. ‘But,’ he [the guard] said, ‘that’s exactly why you’re in prison.’ ‘What do you mean that’s why?’ ‘Well, yes—freedom, that’s why. They’re taken away your freedom.’ I’d never thought about that.”

There is no remorse from Mersault. No awareness that he killed a man. He ended a life. And the only concern he has is being treated unfairly in prison. Why he even sided with Raymond rather than the abused woman, in the beginning, makes no sense to me. Why write a book about such a repugnant character?

 

Page 89-90 “ … for the first time in years I had this stupid urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me.”

Maybe a cry would have done him good. It might have woken those emotions asleep or suppressed for so long.

 

Page 100 “I would have liked to have tried explaining to him cordially, almost affectionately, that I had never been able to truly feel remorse for anything.”

Do such people truly exist? I don’t think so. In my opinion, when writing – even if you want to make a unique statement or be different in your writing style – at least create a character that is real. If you want to create an alien, write sci-fi.

 

Page 114 “Everybody knows that life isn’t worth living.”

No, I don’t know that. I know that life is the greatest gift. Every morning our eyes wake to beauty and love, joy and sorrow, is a gift. Even the shortest life, or the most difficult, is worth the living, because the world is blessed by every life. The soul is enriched by every smile, by every tear. Life is worth living.

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