Creating Encounter: Story

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Two writer friends, Amy and Fiona, asked an interesting question on social media this week. Will there be books in heaven? My first response was to think, of course, but no Jeffery Archer. Which just goes to show how quickly our instincts fly to exclude those we don’t deem worthy. But I think that probably it is God who chooses the stock for the libraries of heaven, just as he decides who gets to sit where at the feast.

As a writer myself, and someone who was an avid reader when I was well, I can’t imagine an existence without books. When I was tiny, nothing was so magical as sitting cross-legged on the library floor, transported to another world. We are wired for story, and it has a deep and presiding influence in our lives and learning. We learn about good and evil from fairy stories, whilst myth and legend help us to understand life by stretching overarching narratives across it, like skin on a drum frame.  Archetypes, heroes and villains are all helpful tools for navigating reality, and story can be both fiction and non-fiction. We talk, don’t we, about Bible “stories” and we read about the lives of famous people and saints formulated as story in biographies and autobiographies.

How we narrate our own lives, how we tell our story to ourselves and others, is a hugely important thing. We might see ourselves as victim or hero, and more often than not, write a triumphal narrative into the facts, whether it exists or not, because we need to have hope that it all works out in the end. Meaning is the mainstay of a human life, and story gives it to us.

What heaven is like, is something we can have great fun imagining. I feel sure that whilst we are coming home to God when we die, and finding union with his loving being, that we are also going, on some level, to keep becoming more truly ourselves, and that implies that there will continue to be an element of growth. Story, learning and creativity will always play a part in that.

When God has been gracious enough to give me glimpses of my heavenly future, I have always been doing something creative. Embroidering altar cloths as I minister to the broken, or kneeling on the back of a lapis lazuli sky, etching intricate patterns and words into its surface.  We serve a creative God and I think this reflection of who he is in our beings will be part of what is next. Added to which, I truly believe that the stories I have written have been given to me during the stillness of deep prayer. They sadly have the mark of my human expression that cannot capture God’s heart well, but they feel like a holy endeavour.

If we ever, like Richard Dawkins, begin to think that story is superfluous, and that fiction is about lies, rather than heavenly magic, we might do well to remember that Jesus chose to teach us, not by dissecting the universe into facts, nor by preaching clever theology, but by telling stories.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter: Poetry

 

Poetry books

A lot of people think of poetry as a sublime art form, a reaching into the metaphysical for eternal truth. They think of Shelley and Keats, of Plath and Bukowski, perhaps not of Pam Ayres and Roger McGough. Poets really ought to be lounging in smoking jackets with eyes shut in imaginative ecstacies, or writhing in the throes of suicidal depression, not normal people with, say, toddlers running around their feet, or standing in the kitchen gazing out of the window at geraniums.

The truth is that poetry is always sublime, even when it is ridiculous, and that absolutely anyone can be a poet, just as anyone can be a writer. It is harder to be a good poet, of course, and completely subjective. One of my very favourite poems consists of two words, is entitled “Fish” and by Ogden Nash:  “Wet pet.”

When it comes to using poetry as a place to create encounter with God, we have some wonderful precedents. I would urge you to take a look at Daniel Ladinsky’s translations of spiritual greats, “Love Poems From God,” which gives us truly beautiful renderings of the verse of poets, mystics and saints.

I personally often write poems at times of great personal distress or ill humour, because I find the writing process cathartic, and prose just doesn’t seem able to contain depths of pain in such a concentrated way. At the same time I ask God to meet me in that pain, and the words therefore often feel like the results of encounter.

Writing poetry can be a form of prayer, and in fact, the central point of this series is that everything can, though perhaps creativity in particular.  If we are ever in doubt that poetry is a holy endeavour, we might read some Gerard Manley Hopkins. For me, he was the master of spiritual poetry.

Poets who frame pain in beauty, like Alice Walker and Maya Angelou (two more masters) are talking in spiritual language for me, even where they are deeply grounded in earthly happenings and visceral words. My husband and co-founder of Lakelight, Rowan Wyatt, is a wonderful poet and I hope he will share something of his process later in this series.

The writing of poetry can also be open to God in the sense that we are trying to find the words to form order out of chaos, matter from the void. Trying to clothe with the flesh of words, things that seem unsayable. We worship the Creator God and the Great Redeemer, who can help us shape our clay even as we work with feeble fingers. Giving God the process, asking him in, dedicating the words that form in the silence to him, all make space for encountering his character and his truths.

To illustrate that I’ll end this piece with one of my absolute favourite poems,

SAINT FRANCIS AND THE SOW  BY GALWAY KINNELL

The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow

began remembering all down her thick length,

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,

from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering

from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

 

Galway Kinnell, “Saint Francis and the Sow” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell.