Thursday, December 31, 2009

All Things New

My New Year's Eve will be less than exciting this year. Actually more along the lines of depressing. I will will breathe an honest sigh of relief as this year draws to a long-awaited close. With a still-burdened heart I will whisper a little prayer of thanks for the promise that all things are made new and that God has placed eternity in the hearts of mankind. And I will reflect with hope on the words I wrote exactly one year ago today, on a much different New Year's Eve:

It's the last cold night of the year
And I am not who I was last December
And I'm not who I thought I'd be
Though, ask who that was and I may not remember
And time won't stand still
No it doesn't wait for any one of us
None of us
Are pulling the strings
But I am not lost
I am buried in frost
Blooming inward and waiting for spring

There is wind in the windows again
From cracks in the panes, and a snowbird is singing
That all winters come to an end
And warmth melts away bitter cold that's still clinging
To memories of last year
And rocks through the glass that left me all in shards
It was hard
But it's time to move on
And clear out some room
For what's begging to bloom
Every corner the light will shine on.

Be Well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Now and the Not-Yet

I've grown up loving the Christmas season and all it implies for a person of faith, but it's only in recent years that I've taken fast hold of this concept of Advent. In fact, it seems that the older I get the more meaningful it all becomes - this stretch of time between four-weeks-before-Christmas and epiphany (I know, Advent typically entails only the time until December 24). It's significant that we begin the Christian year with a period of resting, anticipating, peaceful longsuffering (as opposed to actively seeking, doing, going). I don't know why this greater appreciation and understanding of Advent has developed with age, but it may have something to do with life circumstances in that there are now more things which require me to wait with expectancy. Children wait, but their expectancy is, for the most part, short sighted and sure. But compounding years seem to bring both more long-sighted looking forward and greater uncertainty. It's much easier for my expectancy to look like anxiety than hope, and I need the constant reassurance that very little is actually in my hands. (Even as I sit here and write this I'm thinking about the myriad ways in which I'm trying to manipulate my situation to align with what I think will produce the greatest outcomes for the future... and I'm failing.)

Each year my comprehension of Advent becomes a bit more conceptually hearty, although the change is slow over time. It seems to have evolved from waiting patiently to waiting patiently with great hope. And this year I've clung to the idea that we wait with great hope because the promise of a savior was actually fulfilled. The Christian people have a substantiated history of seemingly far-fetched promises coming to fruition. And their hopes have been of eternal importance, and mine are mostly not. I don't think I grasped until a couple of weeks ago that between the prophecy of the birth of a messiah and the actual incarnation the Israelites waited for four hundred years in virtual silence. Four hundred years! It makes my twenty three years seem like a tiny breath. It's amazing to me that over centuries they maintained an ardent hope through prayer and tradition and the passing down of stories over time - that the ball didn't get dropped, the anticipation didn't get lost in translation or completely dissipate over time.

I keep coming back to Luke 1:45, when Mary visits Elizabeth after Gabriel has come to her in a dream and Elizabeth tells her, "Blessed is she who believes what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished."

I have great hope that the Lord works things for good, and I have evidence that he unfailingly fulfills his promises. Yes, I realize that Advent is specifically celebrating the birth of the Savior, but for me there are clearly broader implications about the character and faithfulness of God, and about the way we relate to God and love God by maintaining this hope-against-all-odds.

Yet so many things are still so up in the air for me. Those of you dearest to me know specifically what I seek, the weight of the desires and fears from under which I can't seem to climb.

Because what about the things the Lord hasn't promised, hasn't really spoken to me about at all?

I obviously still have a quite a bit of room to grow in my understanding of this beautiful, refining season and story. Here's to next Christmas.

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." -Hebrews 10:23

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Artists Are the Ones Who Show Up

*Cory was looking through my sketch/everything else book last night and ran across this image, after which I had written a couple of pages about the process of sketching the as-yet-unfinished pencil drawing. I off-handedly assured her it was fine to read those private thoughts because I had blogged them before. Which I apparently hadn't. So I'll post it now to avoid having given her empty words. This is from almost exactly one year ago - November 15, 2008:

I'm sketching a picture of a boy with an apple. It's from a magazine photograph. And self-inflicted perfectionist that I am, it's becoming a learning experience in patience, frustration, and critical moderation (the moderation of criticism). An outside eye would call it a good picture (for an amateur) if they were not looking at the original photograph. But the problem is, I am looking at the original photograph, and my self-critical eye wants to follow the lines from discrepancy to discrepancy, unrealistic shadows, various incidences of improper proportion.

Amidst all this wearing away of pencil eraser and the blackening of my fingertips from smudge, I think I may be missing some lessons in beauty - lessons of epic proportion in relation to the way I view my life, my productivity.

One immediate issue of note is my inappropriate attitude toward my re-creation as it relates to the attitude of the original photograph. It's a full-page spread stuck in the middle of some article about apple-picking - a kind of "fun for the whole family" thing. In fact, the section of the magazine is called Everyday Celebrations - and the mood is incredibly light and celebratory. This kid is flashing a toothy grin; he's just taken a huge bite of this glorious granny-smith, and in one second he is capturing all that is good and right about childhood - innocence, leisure, dirt under the fingernails. And here I'm hating this effort more and more. No wonder I can't reconstruct that sense of levity.

I've written in the margins - which will later be filled with a background of apple barrels - these words that I've heard a lot lately - artists are the ones who show up. In essence, we're all aspiring toward something, and if we were honest with each other we'd realize that we've all felt, at some point, like we're imposters. It's easy to say I'm not an artist because my drawing of a photograph doesn't entirely resemble the photograph itself, but that would be unfortunate and untrue. I am an artist, simply for the fact that I was inspired to observe the world around me and try to put pencil to paper to express that - and that I actually did it. I didn't think about it and talk myself out of it because I haven't sketched a photograph in eight years, because I haven't ever taken a formal art class. I'm an artist because I showed up. And for that I applaud myself.

I'm also learning some things through the actual drawing process itself. I began the picture with a central element - the face, which I've always found particularly challenging to draw. I've realized that so much of what we perceive is related to light and dark, highlights and shadows. These elements give us meaning through shape, depth, texture. I've kind of taken to telling myself, "focus on this one shadow, this one highlight - take one small bite at a time. Follow this line to the next shadow or curve, blend it, thin it out. Focus on these elements each in isolation with great attention to detail and the picture will miraculously come together." To some degree this works, especially in relation to detail drawing, but at some point I'm going to have to look at the whole picture (as any viewer would ultimately do). It will only make sense when I see these details in relation to one another. This apple doesn't make sense with rounded lines drawn through it until I understand that these lines make up the fingers holding the apple. That the fingers are connected to a hand, tucked into a shirt sleeve of the shirt on the boy who is sitting in a barn eating an apple. Criss-crossed lines are senseless until, together, they create the waffle-knit texture of the shirt. Nothing in this world exists outside of a context. Nothing ever makes sense in isolation. Ever.

Keep pushing through and eventually you will break down the wall you're hitting your brain against.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just So We're Clear On One Thing

Just so we're clear on one thing, my time is valuable. If I have made time to spend with you, it's because it's important to me. If you're not going to follow through don't even bother.

I'm flexible, not dispensable. Big difference.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Settles

It's been my great pleasure in the past week and a half to experience a higher-than-normal number of fortuitous run-ins with my wonderful housemate Cory, whether at home or at Urban Standard (my other home). It seems to me this is reflective of the change in our rhythms as of late for various reasons. Anyhow, I am always thankful for these precious well-springs throughout my day. For a humble and gracious wisdom which I always feel has been poured on me as I interact with such a beautiful person.

Earlier this week, we discussed the way it often seems that we all just can't help but wound and crush each other. Humans are so incredibly fragile. I think we don't realize what we do to one another in our inevitable struggle for self-preservation. And this wounding has the unfortunate tendency toward becoming cyclical. Similar to redemptive violence, and likely related to our God-given need to relate to one another, sometimes we just want to make someone else hurt as much as we do. On the other side of the same coin, we hurt one another with the uncareful wielding of our good intentions. A simple lack of forethought or self-control can prove a potent poison. What we mistake for love can quickly become a weapon.

The redemptive part of this cycle is that people are, generally, resilient and have such a great capacity for love. With practice, we learn that we cannot avoid seeing the glory and beauty instilled in each one of us. We bear fruit we previously would scarce have recognized. And, if we let it, healing comes with time. That's not to say we finish suffering or struggling before we die; it seems where one scar fades there are always one or two more to take its place. The point is that we learn to see the mending in the midst of the tearing. We begin to be able to trace the path over which a strong and silent hand has carried us. On a good day, this gives me hope for what lies ahead. Somehow I find myself at rest through the tumultuous forward motion. I wish I had that clarity every day. But today I am holding on to a hand that has made undeniable provision.

What seems to be a crisis, what previously would have made me come completely unglued, now looks like a proving ground for sovereignty. A conduit for hope and courage and a gracious sense of humor. Now, more than ever before, I understand the peace of knowing that everything settles in the end. Through all the process and exchange and reaction, we learn the things that really matter. The products of our labor are those things with the greatest gravity. Strive, fall apart, regroup, repeat, rejoice, remain.

"I am here with open arms to help you along the way.
Just know in this maddening crowd, I am on your side."
-Neil Couvillion


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Note To Self:

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."

-C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Looks like I'm on a roll!

I frequently go back and read old journal entries, partially as an indicator of forward motion, a mile-marker of sorts for the emotional journey. It's helpful in seeing where I've grown and stayed the same, accomplished or not, come back around to where I was before, made it through one more crisis, had a good moment of insight, et al.

Here's a portion of one from April (I wish I was still thinking this way consistently):

I've been thinking a lot lately about redemption, how it really is the end goal, how it permeates all things - the reconciliation of all things. And I don't just mean spiritual redemption. We are all saving each other every day. But I do appreciate the perspective I have wherein this goodness exists in relation to a gracious God I don't understand. I love that we move in great mystery. Lately, I wonder a lot if I don't confess enough - although I'm regularly throwing out token apologies. And my deep confession is usually brief and centers around the same faults; I have not loved well and I have expected too much. And every once in a while I can't stand up under the weight of a grace that is so dense, so saturated, almost oppressively present. I feel close to my frailty - just as I should. Not guilty, per se, but broken down and so far from goodness. I love what Greg said about the way (he speculates and I agree) God relates to humanity. He said God's will is not like a vase that we can knock off a table and it's shattered and irreparable. God is always looking at the messes we've made and saying, "we can work with this."
I love that God is dynamic like this, that His will is never static, that it's not unaffected by the choices we make, that when He says "here is the way, walk in it," He knows we'll take the scenic route, has made provision for all the time we will spend hiding in caves and sleeping with the enemy and wandering into the valley of the shadow of death.
And not only does God make provision, but He sorrows with us over our brokenness - not like a distant and wrathful despot. He is here in the midst of us, dwelling among and within us. So inasmuch as we can't be separated from ourselves, we can't be separated from the One who dwells in us. I don't talk about these things much with people, except in general discussion at church. It's sticky and vague. People are sensitive. They don't want to be affected. Or they don't think they do. I know I don't. I make it too much of a priority to seem unaffected. But I see here how I'm softening - a necessary dissolution of a sometimes harsh exterior.

And one from early June:

Leaving my house this afternoon, I turned back toward the door to lock the deadbolt, happening to look up and notice the reflection of a most unexpected gift in the back yard. Nestled gloriously and furtively in an understated flower pot next to the hopelessly algae-ridding pond was a gardenia bush. The sight of it actually caught my breath for a second for surprise, and I had to wade carefully through kudzu in order to reach the blossoms with my nose - to ensure that this was, in fact, my favorite flower, right in my own back yard.

Instances like these are, to me, a statement of God's lovingkindness and good will toward me. I remember, again, that I have not been forgotten.

Welcome to the end of Summer, where everything moves in slow motion in the hot rain and fading light.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Peace and Be Still

Found this last night and it brought me peace.


Another Sunday morning comes
And I resume the standard Sabbath
Of the woods, where the finest blooms
Of time return and where no path

Is worn but wears its maker out
At last and disappears in leaves
Of fallen seasons. The tracked rut
Fills and levels; here nothing grieves

In the risen season. Past life
Lives in the living. Resurrection
Is in the way each maple leaf
Commemorates its kind, by connection

Outreaching understanding. What rises
Rises into comprehension
And beyond. Even falling raises
In praise of light. What is begun

Is unfinished. And so the mind
That comes to rest among the bluebells
Comes to rest in motion, refined
By alteration. The bud swells,

Opens, makes seed, falls, is well,
Being becoming what it is:
Miracle and parable
Exceeding thought, because it is

Immeasurable; the understander
Encloses understanding, thus
Darkens the light. We can stand under
No ray that is not dimmed by us.

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest or out of it.

-Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Paradox. One of Many.

I don't really understand how or why, but these days it seems like I spend most of my time experiencing, simultaneously, the sense that I am shutting down completely and the sense that I am coming alive like never before.

Then again, I've always seemed to make myself quite at home in the house of paradox.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hymn To Home

I haven't had much to say in the blogworld lately. I realize this, in fact, just looked at the date of my last post and cringed. All that to say, I have actually been writing, just not the rambling sort of prose I normally produce and occasionally stick here for you to do with it what you will. Lyrics have been my main stride lately.

So, if there's even anyone left who's still interested, here's a little of what's been washing over the floors of the Crescent music room (it kind of feels like cheating since this is a few months old...but it may be new to you). In case you want to get the feel of it, the music is uncomplicated and moves along in a hymn-like manner.

Hymn to Home (Sing to Me of Love and Home)

We'll hang pictures on the wall
The family tree that lines the hall
A forest of our history
Reminds us how we came to be

We'll pick out the hardwood floors
And build our dreams with two-by-fours
The table that your father made
And blankets for the window shades

So sing to me of love and home
So I will know I'm not alone
And we'll spin tales both loud and long
So we remain when we are gone

We'll hang laundry on the line
And pray it doesn't rain this time
And if clouds gather in the sky
We'll build a roof to keep us dry

I can play mom's old upright
And serenade you through the night
And once the stars are tucked away
Then hand in hand we'll greet the day

And we'll sing songs of love and home
Reminding us we're not alone
And we'll spin tales both loud and long
So we remain when we are gone.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Of Editing and Edification

I’ve always had the writing bug. It bit me early, and for as long as I can remember, my thoughts have always just made more sense on paper.

As I’ve grown older, this expression has taken on various mediums, most recently combining with another love (necessity) of mine – making music. As several of you know, I bought a 88-weighted-key keyboard last fall, sort of on a lark, as an expensive motivation for writing more music (and to scratch a particular inspirational itch). It has been one of, if not the singular best investment I have ever made.

As with any activity, I still go through alternating spells of drought, stagnation, and open-floodgate deluges of creativity – almost like a musical manic-depression. But in those instances when I am flooded with ideas, I get on a roll and it’s hard to stop myself, which is, overall, a positive thing.

The downside is that writing music can be really scary; it makes me really honest – I can’t help it. I have the inability to compose without it being at least partially personal. Sometimes I sit down and start inventing, totally unprepared for what is about to come out. I realize things about myself through writing as much as I do through interacting with people or reading or watching others live their lives. So I start running with an idea, then suddenly I’ve gained so much creative velocity that I can’t put it down, can’t extract myself from the productive process, and before I have the sense to stop it, all kinds of beautiful and uncomfortable inklings and melodies and convictions and stories have taken on literary flesh and bone.

And I love that they bring me insight and clarity, because songwriting, for me, always contains some degree of edification. But I often hate that they’re true.

This is why editing takes place and why some songs will never make it past the doors of my music room.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Love this Understanding

"I hope no reader will suppose that 'mere' Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of existing communions--as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?'
"When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house."
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Important Piece

November, November
It's time to say goodbye.
Don't forget to lock the door,
Close the curtains, mop the floor,
Leave this chapter of the book
And don't recall what lonely took
from you.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

The List On My Mirror

1. Be angry less.
2. Allow for more silence.
3. Be less passive-aggressive.
4. Pray more.
5. Surrender More. Control less.
6. Own less.
7. Write more. Create more.
8. Worry less.
9. Keep no record of wrongs.
10. Buy less. Give more.
11. Sola Gratia.
12. Assume less.
13. Wait.
14. Be present where you are.


Friday, January 2, 2009