Five Years of Writing

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Logo Final
Five years.
Five years of writing in this space.IMG_2529
Much has happened in five years.
Our family has moved.
We have doubled our number of children.
We have lost loved ones and gained many more.
My writing has improved; I grow more and more into my own writing-self as I write each week.
My blog has grown, slowly rather than by giant leaps and I find that this is how it should be. I am, after all, a mommy to four very little girls.
I find that I am content with my smallness, content simply to write with no expectations for more. Yet sometimes I wonder if God is calling me to more.
It is a fine balance, this staying content. To not feel greedy for more while also not being fearful of the same possibility. How well I achieve this high wire act depends on my day and how much sleep I had the night before.
In honor of this five year mark, and in preparation for sending out my book to be read and judged, next week I will begin a quest for more subscribers, a quest in which I hope you will join me. (It will involve giveaways…a few of my favorite things!)
Perhaps God has more public spaces prepared for these words I write; perhaps He desires for me to continue writing for just a few. While I suspect that I will feel a bit of relief if smallness is His choice, I only want to remain faithful to Him.
In the meantime, and regardless of the result, I will continue to practice my art, being faithful to cultivate whatever talent has been given. I will continue to learn how to craft my words, enjoying the beauty of weaving words and visual art together and enjoying the search for wisdom and understanding that I pray lies beneath my weavings. I will continue to explore this small life around me as well as the larger culture of the world in an attempt to love God better.
I will write, as I have written every week for five years, of the way that God makes all things sacred. I hope that you will continue with me and I pray that you will be helped by these words.
As I end every blogging year, I finish with this prayer:
Whatever the reason for my writing, here I am in this space.  I will continue to obey, even though it is hard and often causes my heart to feel fear.  I will write.  God will listen.  I pray He will continue to be pleased.

Surrounding Ourselves with Quality

I have inadvertently begun a small series on faith and the arts. I think that this will be the last essay in the series. Of course, I didn’t think that there was going to be any series at all. So, we’ll see. If you missed the first two, I would love for you to read about how ethics helps us live like a great jazz pianist and about some of the things that music teaches us about God. Today I’m moving away from music and toward the visual arts. Specifically, architecture.

 

 

If you would like to hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.
Are facts and logic the only things that point toward truth, or can beauty and good artistry move you toward the same truth?
Formula
Nativity
Does what you surround yourself with eventually affect your character, moving you closer to or farther from godliness?
Building a Timeless House
Brent Hull, author of Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age, believes so. Hull is a master house builder, trained in the art of historic design and museum quality preservation. He believes that the home you build communicates something about who you are.
The reason we study the pyramids in Egypt is that they tell us about Egyptians, leading us to an understanding of what they believed, what they valued, how they lived…The process of homebuilding has been so commoditized that we don’t recognize the fact that our choices reflect our values…The decisions we make for our homes weave a tale of our character, value, history, and heart. What happens when we examine our homes and lives with the same lens of discovery we place on the Egyptian pyramids? What do our homes say about us?
Beauty
Regardless of the kind of task that is currently in your focus, is your aim to create beauty or is it on the bottom line? Are you more concerned with creating something timeless or with getting the most for your dollar? Are you dishonest about what impression you present to the world while being content on the inside with cheap imitations?
Timeless
Notre Dame
These are weighty questions, questions that contain ideas that relate to more than just house building.
I don’t plan to build a house any time soon, but even as I furnish and change the inside of my home, what am I teaching my children? Am I teaching them that craftsmanship and quality furnishings that take time to create or to save up for are worthwhile or am I teaching them that it is better to buy cheap things that will soon break just so that I can gather more stuff?
Craftmanship
Quality
As I create our home, whether I’m building something or just purchasing a sofa, how can I communicate the values of honesty, integrity, strength, and wisdom to my children?
This is something I’ve pondered before in a broader sense, wondering what has happened in the Christian art world to the quality of our art. If God is creator and if beauty points back to Him, then Christians should be leading the world in the quality of our music, our literature, our visual arts, and yes, our homes as well.
Lovely
True
Why would you build an ugly home?
Hull writes that many authors from the Renaissance through the early 1900s wrote about character in buildings. The character of buildings and the character of community were thought to be closely tied together. Build honest homes and you will get honest citizens.
Don’t I want my children to chase quality rather than chasing price?
Emphatically yes.
And if the home is the place where we spend the most time, the place we want our children to return to, the place that is meant to be a safe haven from the world, then home is the place where we should put beauty and quality above all else.
Cathedral
Dome St Peters
To build a timeless house today, we need to desire beauty over cost. We need to wonder if building cheap houses doesn’t cause us to become a cheap culture. Now is the time to examine ourselves, our motives, and our hearts. When we do, the rewards are immense; high quality and meaningful design in our homes are but two of the many benefits. They endure even after we are gone. They enrich our lives for generations. ~ Brent Hull, Building A Timeless House in an Instant Age
May we, in all that we do, seek to enrich lives for generations.

Art credit: all photos of cathedrals by Kirk Sewell of R.K. Sewell Photography; Adoration of the Shepherds painting by Charles LeBrun

God in Music

(I’m trying something new this week. If you would like to hear me read my blog post aloud, just click the play button. Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to do more of this!)  (If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.)

 

God is a creator.
Supernova
Pulsar
Starry Sky
It is the first thing we learn about Him. In the beginning, God created.
Perhaps it is because I am an artist myself, but I like to think that this is important. That God-as-creator being the first thing He tells us about Himself is a clue to His character, to what He deems is significant.
Creator God placed art in a position of great importance because it reminds us of the glory that once was and the glory that will be again.
Music
I don’t know much about the visual arts or about theater or dance.  Music, however, is an art that I know quite intimately, and I love the insights it gives us into the nature and character of God.
For example, music helps us to understand time. It shows us that the present is what is most important. Music only truly exists in the present. Music in the future is just a possibility, just a plan. Music in the past is done, it cannot be heard again. Music in the present? Beauty. Only as it passes that razor edge moment of the present time can it be heard and appreciated.
Music also shows us that taking time to accomplish something can be good. More than good, it can be amazing. We often chafe against the delay between creation and restoration. We want God to come now, for Him to make everything perfect immediately. Yet when we listen to a Beethoven symphony, we are drawn into more than an hour of experiencing the music unfold and are astounded at the way it all fits together to create the final chords. No one would be impatient for that hour to pass just to reach the end. We savor that hour of music and that hour of music makes the ending all the more stunning.
As we experience the music’s dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story’s sense and power. Music is remarkably instructive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures. ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth
One more?
Music give us insight into understanding the trinity. Three-in-one is beyond the grasp of comprehension, yet God gave us music to help. If I play one note on the piano, it fills up all available aural space. There are no gaps. If I play a three-note chord on the piano, all three notes still fill up all the same available aural space, yet all three notes also sound their distinctive pitch. More than that, it is not a particular chord unless all three notes are played together.
The notes interpenetrate, occupy the same heard space, but I can hear them as (three) notes…What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note chord, a resonance of life; Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion, and yet without merger, each occupying the same space, ‘sounding through’ one another, yet irreducibly distinct, reciprocally enhancing, and establishing one another as one another? ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth 
There are many other ways that God uses music to teach us about Himself, to give us wisdom to understand Him more. What are some that you have thought of?
It leaves me awestruck with gratitude. I am grateful beyond measure that He gives us something so beautiful as a way of revealing Himself.
You artists who practice other genres of art, what theology do you find in your particular art form? What about those of you who are non-practicing art lovers? Do you see God in any particular form of art?

Art credit: Thanks to NASA for sharing such magnificent photographs of the mysteries of space.

Four Years of Writing

I have been writing here in this space for four years now.
Four years of writing and hitting “publish” once a week, every week.
Four years is a long time in the world of blogs. Not many make it this long.
To be honest, just last month I was afraid I would have to take a break.
This fourth baby has been, well, difficult.
This year of beginning to homeschool and being pregnant and then caring for an extra fussy newborn has threatened to sink me at times.
Since I couldn’t give back the baby (don’t worry…I didn’t really want to…mostly…except every once in a while at two in the morning…) or quit educating my child or let my house return to nature, it seemed as though my writing was the only thing I could let go.
Except that God wouldn’t allow me to let it go. There was always something in my heart that He wanted me to say.
Often it was pounded out in five minute spaces and published even though it didn’t feel polished or very well crafted. Yet every time I was obedient to hit that publish button, even when I felt the most inadequate, I heard back from someone about how those words were exactly what they needed to hear.
So I keep writing.
I keep writing and I keep publishing in this little space of mine.
Except it isn’t really mine, is it?
It belongs to God and has always belonged to God, so as long as He keeps asking me to write, even when I don’t have the time to perfectly craft each word to make it sing, I will continue to obey.
Someday I’ll have more time. Someday these little ones won’t be quite so dependent on me and I’ll be able to pursue those bigger writing dreams of mine.
Until then, I’ll be faithful in this season of my life. I’ll hold those tiny, sturdy, beautiful bodies extra close and then snatch a few minutes here and there to jot down what I have in my heart. I’ll enjoy this season of writing in between nursing and playing dollhouse and reading aloud.
I hope you’ll continue to read and be encouraged, even when the words don’t flow as well as they used to.
I’m grateful that God has chosen me to be their mommy and I’m grateful that God has chosen me to write in this space.
So here is where I live: trying my best to be faithful in all that God has given me.
I will end this year, as I have each year of blogging, with this:
Whatever the reason for my writing, here I am in this space.  I will continue to obey, even though it is hard and often causes my heart to feel fear.  I will write.  God will listen.  I pray He will continue to be pleased.

The Artistry of God

Revel with me in the artistry of God.
artistry
Be amazed at the depth of His creativity.
creativity
Look with wonder at variation beyond number.
variation
Ponder the beauty of difference.
difference
Of large
large
and small,
small
of smooth
smooth
and warty,
warty
of single color
single color
and multi-hued.
multi-hued
Praise the loveliness of His artistic diversity
diversity
in all of the people and pumpkins around you.

Junky Art

We love a God of beauty.
Beauty
Beauty
We worship a God of art, of music, of literature.
Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta
We serve a God of perfection.
Perfection
Perfection
We adore a God Who gives us only His best.
Samantha
God’s best
Why, oh why, then do we consistently offer Him art that is, to put it bluntly, junk?
Why do we think that music that is dull and overly simple is what is best for inspiring our hearts to worship?  Why do we think that literature that is bland and is bad storytelling will turn our minds toward thoughts of God?  Why do we think that art that is commercialized and overly sentimental will cause our imaginations to soar to the heavens?
Perhaps this is harsh.  I will fully admit that there are artists (in the full sense of the word) out there who inspire awe in the hearts of all those who come across it.  But this is not the norm.  Not anymore, that is.
It used to be that Christians artists were at the top of their craft.  They were respected and admired throughout the world.  Think Bach.  Think Correggio.  Think Milton and Tolstoy.
Correggio
Correggio
It is not this way anymore.  The secular world no longer looks up to Christian art to lead the way.  Instead it sneers at Christian art and views it as subpar, something to be shunned rather than something to inspire.
To paraphrase James: my brothers, this should not be!  The lack of excellence in our art indicates to the world that we serve a God who is less than excellent.
Much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Oh, we could do so much better.  We could open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than to the power of the market.
Fellow artists, let God inspire you.  Open yourself to that which you cannot control.  Ignore the sale; ignore what you think people want.  Listen instead to the Spirit.  Listen to what God is showing you through your work: “my proper place is as a servant struggling to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently tries to teach me some of what it knows.” (L’Engle)
Let your art sing.  Let it soar.
Those who are not artists, be discerning.  If it is good art, if it inspires you and sets your imagination soaring toward God, then support it.  If it is bad art, don’t support and sustain it simply because it involved the name or image of Christ.
I know that my words do not reach many, but I dream of a day when those who claim to follow a God of beauty and excellence are once again those who  produce that art which leads the entire world in soaring to the heights, are once again those who produce the art which therefore points the way to God.

Three Years of Writing

Three years.

Much can happen in that amount of time.  Much has happened.

There has been life and there has been death.  There have been a few acceptances and many rejections.  There has been writing and rewriting and yet rewriting again of a book.  There has been much learning and much reading and much perfecting of my craft.

Much can also remain the same in that amount of time.

I still discipline myself to write almost every day.  I still polish enough words to publish in this space once a week.  I still believe that I am in a season of very little ones where I am waiting, practicing and learning and refining my art.

Another element that remains the same is my fear.  I am learning that no matter how long I have been writing, it is still a frightening thing to release my words, that deeply vulnerable piece of myself, into a world that seems increasingly venomous.  I am also learning that no matter how much encouragement I get, I am still mostly convinced that my skill is substandard, clumsy, inept.

I am grateful when someone says that I spoke to them, that my words helped to heal or encourage their heart.  I am reminded that, as much as I may sometimes desire to reach the many, God is concerned with the particular.  One is as important as the whole.

I get restless at times.  I find myself chasing after something in the world of writing instead of just diligently writing and waiting on God, and I have to ask Him to reign me back in.  I want to spend time at writing conferences.  I want to publish my book.  I want to have my articles accepted into magazines and journals.  I want to write epically and impact the world for God.

Yet most of the time I am content with what God gives to me.  For truly, I am not ready for much responsibility and must continue to show myself faithful with the little that I am given.  I am content to put in the time so that I can learn how to make my words sing.  I am content to continue to read and study so that I have the substance to place within those words that will sing.  I am content to dwell in this moment, this moment in which my little ones are so very little, which won’t last for always.

So here I am.  Three years later.  Much has changed.  Much has remained the same.

One fundamental that has not changed?  The One I am writing for.  And so, once again, I will end as I began:

Whatever the reason for my writing, here I am in this space.  I will continue to obey, even though it is hard and often causes my heart to feel fear.  I will write.  God will listen.  I pray He will continue to be pleased.

These Are Gift

Logs piled high with fire bright to keep
away pain of deep freeze snow night;
Brilliant sun rises on even a dark day reminding
that peace our despair will allay;
Fears faced with soft laughter and voices
loud that flit high toward rafter;
These are gift
Hand offered up to tightly hold while heart
searches hard to discover it is bold;
One timid smile offered slow on a troubled
day that conspires to bring heart low;
Tiny dimpled fingers tightly wrap around
a thumb with paper skin deep in nap;
These are gift
One who spoke earth and star is found
wrapped in small by those traveling far;
He who is Creator’s song takes on
all our discord, killed for our wrong;
Promise of freedom from fear, of healing
our broken, of wiped away tear;
These are gift
for which we give thanks

Living by Formula

Formulas are nice when you want to control your results.

Formula

Living creatively is risky.
creative architecture
Yet the first thing that we are told about this God in whose image we are created is that He Himself is creative.  He is a creator.
God Creating
You can never tell what will come of living creatively.  Even many who are courageous enough to practice an art form and share it with the world would prefer to live more formulaically.
paint by number
Many of our choices in this life can be directly guided by what God says through His Scriptures.  Am I angry with someone?  I should not kill them.  Do I see something I like in a store window?  I should not steal it.
Yet there are so many other areas in our lives where we are asked to live as courageously as artists, to be riskily creative with our choices.  We ask God where we should live, where we should go to school, whom we should marry, what sort of career we should pursue, how exactly we should parent our children, and we are dissatisfied with the answer that God can use us wherever we are and on whatever path we choose.
Looking for answers
There are other, more specific situations, in which we long with all of our being to do the right thing, to obey God, to be like Jesus, yet that right thing is far from clear.  This is where we yearn for a formula.  We desperately want to be able to turn to a page, a verse, and get a specific answer for a specific issue.
We tell ourselves it is because we want to obey, yet perhaps it is often closer to the truth that we simply do not trust God’s Spirit in us.  We do not trust that the Holy Spirit can guide us in the way that honors God.  We are too fearful to take the risk of living like an artist.
I have been in the middle of just such a situation this week and have found myself searching anxiously for a formula to tell me what to do.  I was attacked by a dog, a dog that is owned by a neighbor with a history of keeping dogs who have to be put down for attacking people.
Whether or not my neighbor knows God, I am not aware.  What an amazing opportunity to make God known to her!  And I live in a neighborhood filled with children.  God asks us to protect the weak, to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
children playing
How can I do both of these things?  How can I glorify God to my neighbor and protect the children of our neighborhood at the same time?  Certainly an eternal soul is more important than any physical harm, yet God also calls us to work toward justice and the defense of the weak.
Part of the trouble that I (and most of you, I would wager!) like to know my path several steps in advance.  Preferably enough steps in advance to allow me to see the end.  I do not like walking forward when I can only see the space where my foot will land next.
I knew my next step.  I knew that God was asking me to meet with the owner of the dog and just speak with her, but that wasn’t enough.  I wanted to know what would happen after that.  I wanted to see all the way to the end, to know how I would both protect the children and make God known to my neighbor.
Loving the Children
Loving our Neighbor
God did not ask me to plan out all of my steps to the end.  He did not tell me the formula I should use to accomplish both of these goals.  He did not give me the task of making certain that everything was ordered perfectly in order to reach His aims.
He only asked me to do the first thing and to trust Him with the rest, to live creatively and allow the Spirit to guide me one step at a time.
So I did.  I met with the dog’s owner without knowing what would come next.  I took the risk of starting down this path, trusting that God will shine His light ahead when the time is right.  I don’t yet know the ending to this story.  I don’t know how God will work things out.
Lighting One Step at a Time
So I live like an artist, taking the risk to wait for His light without planning all of my steps to completion, knowing that God is far more able to control the ending than any number of formulas that I might follow.
Even though I still like formulas.

 

Art credits: God Creating the Sun, the Moon and the Stars by Jan Breughel; Paint-by-numbers photo by Isabelle Bart; Christ with the Children by Carl Bloch; Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki

The Story

In the beginning was a Story.
Story
At first, the Story existed only in the form of an Idea. Then the Author began to tell the Story little by little, within the confines of time.
Creation
As the Story unfolded, there emerged within smaller shadow-Stories, told over shorter spans of time.
These smaller shadow-Stories reflected the same greater Story, yet were given the gift of being allowed to help their Author to write their Story. The shadow-Stories were allowed to choose their own responses to whatever occurred to them while they existed within the greater Story.
Some of the shadow-Stories chose to reflect the greater Story more perfectly than others, to become a more complete shadow, yet all contained the great Story within themselves to some degree.
Stealing
Helping
Many of the smaller shadow-Stories authored even smaller echoes of the greater Story. These echo-Stories were smaller in size, and not all of their authors were aware of their own Author, yet many of the echo-Stories became even more filled with power than were their authors.
The echo-Stories were told to many of the shadow-Stories and, because they were filled with power, were able to stir within the shadow-Stories the Idea that had existed in the beginning.
In the middle of the greater Story, the Author placed Himself.
Christ
He authored Himself to be one of the shadow-Stories, yet He was the most perfect reflection of the great Story. Within this smaller Author-Story was the complete Idea, perfectly written out for all to read.
The smaller Author-Story was the Idea in Word, the most perfect of all the Stories. The other shadow-Stories could look to Him and discover the sort of Story they were written to be.
Within the smaller Author-Story, the other shadow-Stories are able to catch a glimpse of the end of the greater Story. In catching a glimpse of the end, the shadow-Stories are enabled to help write their own Story more perfectly.
For while they do not yet know what each piece of the great Story will bring, the shadow-Stories can know what the end of the Story will bring.
And the wisest of the shadow-Stories will help to write their own Story with the end of the greater Story in mind.
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
“I see,” she said.  “This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the stable door!  I see…world within world, Narnia within Narnia…”  “Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”  ~ The Last Battle 
The Last Battle

Art credits: The Creation by James Tissot; Christ with Martha and Mary by Henryk Siemiradzki