(this was an assignment for the "Writing for Effect" class I'm in)
A blank page can be terrifying. In my early college days, I assumed that once one gained the ever-elusive status of writer, words would flow effortlessly from pen – or keyboard – to paper. Those illusions (delusions?) quickly vanished, of course, but it is still comforting to hear other writers admit their easy-to-read stylings take real effort. Effort they don’t always want to expend. In today’s “Writing for Effect” class, four writers did just that.
“Writing is work,” Collide Magazine contributer Ben Simpson confessed. He described the hardest part as simply sitting down to begin writing. I’m discovering that most writers seem to have a very similar method of procrastination. We research. Then we make sure every possible tool is aligned just so. In the process, we discover that our favorite pen is missing. So we clean the desk, empty the trash, visit everyone else working on the same floor, send a few e-mails, plan the grocery menu for next month and finally, resentfully, stare at the blank page – the mocking, vicious, evil blank page.
Each time we swear to ourselves – and maybe our editors – that next time we’ll have the assignment in way before deadline. But we all know it isn’t true. “Deadline will grind everything out of you into a lump of something,” said Joe Bollig, staff writer for the Kansas Catholic paper, The Leaven. Very vague -- but also very fitting. Deadline defines the writer. At deadline, everything within a writer is laid out on the block to be examined. If your “lump of something” is acceptable, you live to write another day. We opt not to think about what happens otherwise.
It is torture. And yet, we keep returning. We have to. Because, as Joe points out, we’ve heard the “music and poetry of language.” At some point we put a handful of words together and realized just how powerful – how beautiful – language can be. We keep returning because along the way, amidst the deadlines and procrastination and banging heads against the wall, we fell in love. One of my favorite lines of Shakespeare is Hamlet’s description of what he is reading: “words, words, words.” To a writer, there is no greater – and no more terrifying – sound.
I can't help but feel a little jolt of shock/excitement/fear/pride when Molly Marshall talks about Central's create program. In her recent blog post, she talks about a donor couple -- longtime supporters of Central -- who have decided to redirect their gifts to our program. They want to "sow seeds for the future," Molly suggested.
The future. Someone believes that my 8 colleagues and I are the future. I must say, it feels pretty remarkable to be believed in to the point that someone wishes to fund our education.
Most days I don't feel like "the future." I feel like a girl stumbling along to find her place in ministry. I feel like the little I think I know is completely overshadowed by all the things I don't understand; all the hurt and need around me; all the voices that wish to limit possibility. The journey is hard and exciting and absolutely terrifying. And I know that I don't want to be anywhere else.
I think about the friends I am journeying with -- Allyn, Quintrell, Patrick, Reggie, David, Gary, Jermine, and Tyler. After three classes together, I know these guys. I may not know them all in their daily contexts, but I know them under pressure; I know them in confusion and tough situations; I know them in the process of development and change.
We are seedlings right now. Rookie ministers who want desperately to run in every direction at once. And slowly, very slowly, roots are beginning to develop. We certainly won't be finished products after the next three years, but I have hope -- which I believe is well-founded -- that we will be much further along in the process once we are pushed out of the Central nest (how's that for mixing metaphors?).
I am unbelievably grateful. Grateful for a place to explore and grow; grateful for a community of such fantastic quality; grateful for those who can see things in us that I can't always see in myself.
My story is now on the CBTS Web site. Click on my face to read how I ended up at Central and to see a video of me making really goofy facial expressions (and thanks to Francisco, sounding far more coherent than I usually do!).
“You need a masters degree just to use a cell phone,” he said. If you met Darryl on the street, you’d scratch your head at his comment. A young, intelligent American, Darryl hardly seems the sort to be outsmarted by technology. But after spending 24 years in a maximum-security prison, Darryl is essentially a stranger in the modern world.
I interviewed Darryl in January and was absolutely astounded by his journey. He was arrested and convicted of murder using the testimony of paid, criminal informants. Though no physical evidence linked him to the crime, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 50 years.
Five months later, one of the key witnesses recounted his testimony and signed an affidavit indicating that he lied about seeing the shooting. And yet, nothing happened.
In this case, like many others, justice was not the key issue. Instead, the courts needed someone to blame and punish, so an innocent man went to jail — and remained there for 24 years, until a not-for-profit organization finally convinced the courts to reevaluate.
But the truly amazing thing — the thing that makes me continue to return to his story — is that Darryl carries no trace of bitterness. I asked him about it, because I can’t imagine being imprisoned unjustly for 24 hours without some degree of bitterness, much less 24 years. He responded that he looks to the story of Christ. Jesus, he said, knew what it was like to be punished for a crime he didn’t commit. And Jesus’ response was to pray for those who killed him. For Darryl, being like Christ means forgiving his oppressors.
Six months after talking to Darryl, his ability to forgive still astounds me. My clergy friends who are active in social justice often talk about the need to free both the oppressed AND the oppressors. And while I like to nod and voice my agreement, deep down, I want to remain angry with the oppressors — even when, during my moments of clarity, I recognize that I am one.
The oppressors shouldn’t be freed — they should be imprisoned. Right? Isn’t that what justice demands?
And yet, it never seems to be what Jesus does. Instead, Jesus invites them to see the world differently. Perhaps it is not unlike when my parents would send me to my room as a kid to “think about what you’ve done.” When I emerged, I was expected to discuss my actions, why they were wrong and what I could do differently in the future.
I’m trying to move beyond the idea that justice is some sort of cosmic revenge. I can’t exactly imagine Jesus throwing a few air punches and rejoicing that some “evil doer” (who is always someone other than us) “got what was comin’ to ‘em.”
And maybe that is what Darryl understands and lives out — that true justice is an act of restoration and, yes, of freeing.
When I was younger, I was a pirate. Granted I lived in Jackson, Tenn., which – while rhyming with it – is hardly part of the open sea. And I never hijacked anything, except maybe my little sister’s toys. But I was a pirate – I had the eye patch to prove it.
A few months after I was born, I was diagnosed with amblyopia with strabismus – gigantic words for “a lazy eye and muscle problems.” I had surgery on my eyes at 6 months and began wearing a patch on my left eye (my good eye) in order that its sluggard partner would begin to pull its share of weight.
I remember makings lots of trips to the eye doctor – one in particular who did not appreciate shy, terrified 4-year-olds and would send me out into the waiting room until I was ready to” show him some respect” (speak in his presence).
It’s all part of a world I don’t think about often. But, yesterday during a chat with a friend, I realized it is a world that impacts my life daily.
As a result of my pirate days, my eyes don’t quite work together. My dominant left eye still carries a larger percentage of the seeing burden and, as a result, depth perception is apparently not one of my strong suits. I say apparently, because as someone who doesn’t know any different, I don’t know exactly what kind of depth perception I’m supposed to have.
My friend Jennifer (yes, ANOTHER Jennifer) mentioned that she thinks this causes issues for her with things like parallel parking. I really like that excuse.
As I drove home, I found myself wondering what kind of adaptations I’ve made without ever knowing it. Or what insecurities have always had a medical reason behind it (my feeling the need to be extra-cautious while going down flights of stairs or inclines in the dark, for instance).
I see the world differently, in ways I may not ever comprehend; in ways I never would have known if someone hadn’t pointed it out.
Perhaps there is something metaphorical in there, too. Jesus spoke of those who see. Those who thought they could see were always the ones stumbling at the (lack of) sight of his words. How much do we miss that we never know about? Just what can’t we see?
This past weekend, I participated in my first contemplative retreat at Mystic Trace, the home of my friends Tom and Kathryn Boone.
The weekend was certainly a learning experience for me. Contemplative practices have both scared and fascinated me, as they don't tend to be encouraged in my Baptist tradition. And having pure-O OCD certainly doesn't help with the quieting of the mind.
But I found the weekend enjoyable. Tom, who is essentially my spiritual director, is good at granting permission and reminding me that there really isn't a "wrong" way to be contemplative. There are no set guidelines to follow, and God isn't sitting somewhere pointing a long finger at me and grimacing because I didn't meditate correctly.
Over the course of the weekend, I read a lot about "beginner's mind," the idea of approaching life not as someone who has it all figured out, but as someone open and eager to learn.
After my recent Faith Lab post on an encounter with the Boones' dog Bob, someone suggested that "golden retriever mind" may be the way to go.
With that in mind, I thought I'd share another story from my weekend here. This is from my retreat journal:
Even here, isolated as I am, it is hard to allow myself to rest fully. I think about my apartment, miles away, and how I need to clean or do laundry when I get home. I think of the stories I need to finish for the next paper. I think about the fact that I am thinking about home and work. Learning to be is hard. I've so long equated being with doing that I don't quite know how to separate the two.
Pixie, the Boone's tiny, easily-excited dog, seems to have it figured out. She runs up to greet me, believing my purpose in being here is for her enjoyment. She then rushes over to my backack and shoes to sniff. When she is satisfied, she bounds into the bedroom — presumably to do the same with whatever she finds there. Out she runs again, pauses to look at me, and disappears down the stairs.
Pixie doesn't take the time to analyze what I think. She doesn't care. She knows who she is and lives in that reality: excited and all over the place.
Perhaps contemplative prayer is less about learning to be silent than it is learning to live excitedly and all over the moment we find ourselves in.