Good Letters Is My Devotional

Image Glen OnlineBy Cathy Warner

I came to Christianity in my mid-twenties and joined a Protestant church whose denominational arm publishes devotional booklets that called to mind the copies of Watchtowers Jehovah’s Witnesses used to foist on me.

As a new believer, I was supposed to develop a disciplined spiritual life, the cornerstone being morning devotions: Rise at dawn, open the booklet, read the single line opening prayer, open the Bible to the selected lectionary verse, etc.

But I’m an insomniac who began my sleep-deprived days with a quick shower and breakfast eaten while commuting. I tossed the tiny booklets with their small font and facile prose in the recycling, unread.

By the early 2000s I was writing poetry, prayers, and meditations for my congregation and denomination. Finally, in the act of writing itself, I had found a form of spiritual discipline. I never woke at dawn, but I remained faithful to the practice.

Though I was adept at writing the devotional formula, it quickly began to feel constrictive. I wanted to read outside the “inspirational” genre. I began to hunger for risky, authentic, platitude-free writing that could inspire my own clumsy efforts.

I shared my longing with an artist-painter-pastor who recommended Image. [Read more…]

The Gift of Interdependence

Glen Workshop Aubrey Allison poetry classBy Camellia Freeman

This story has many beginnings.

It begins with the great state of Ohio where I’d made my home for eight years. We lived in Columbus, and on late nights my husband and I would walk its city streets during summers so thick you could wade through them, cicada choruses surging like electric currents through the air, and we would talk at length about how I both dreaded and longed for the day we might leave.

It begins with the persistent loneliness that can make up the writing life, often paired with persistent doubt.

It begins with what I had dubbed the Season of Closed Doors, a season that seemed to go on and on, almost laughably—a sobering reminder that when you choose something, you are choosing it at the exclusion of all else and that the possibilities were never as endless as they seemed. Or with my fantasies about a writing mentor, or the feeling that I was finally in the right project, one that might someday, actually, concretely, become a real first “book.”

Or perhaps it best begins with Greg Wolfe’s phone call one April afternoon when he extended the offer of the pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming Milton Fellowship, and I took it.

This is a story about being welcomed into the Image community, which means that it is a story about true gifts. [Read more…]

A Conversation with Pinckney Benedict

This post originally appeared as a web-exclusive feature accompanying Image journal issue 57.

Pinckney-BenedictMary Kenagy Mitchell for Image: You have a novel titled Dogs of God, and in your new story in Image, “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil,” a feral dog is one of the two main characters. What do dogs have to teach us?

Pinckney Benedict: Dogs give us an excellent metaphor for our own relationship to God: We can see, from our human perspective, how limited their understanding is. And sometimes they make terrible blunders—which we could prevent them from making, if they would listen to us—because they have relatively short horizons. And sometimes they do astonishingly well, by our lights, on very little information and with no moral boundaries.

We’re something like that—magnified to the nth degree, of course—in relation to God. The way I love my dog, even though he’s a spastic moron who eats things that no one or nothing should eat, and then he comes home and vomits on my carpet: that, multiplied infinitely, is how God sees me and also how he loves me. So I can be aware of how limited and shameful I am, and not want to simply burst into flames with humiliation. What I want for my dog is what God wants for me, times one billion. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Hive Boxes” by Megan Snyder-Camp

The sounds in this poem! I love its compactness and humming—its slender shape on the page, just like a tower of hive boxes. Bookended by two phrases that particularly sing—“lit hum” and “known oak”—this poem concentrates its gaze on the compelling paradoxes alive in our world, visible and audible in those very phrases. The hive box hums with an otherworldly aliveness that the speaker registers as light—it is simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary. The oak tree is clearly familiar to the speaker, and yet its proximity to the wonder and novelty of the bee hives exposes its transcendent nature, too. In the light of the hive, the tree is “risen / from its place.” In between these two arresting images, the speaker seems to receive a vision of her place in this mystery, this suspension between the divine and the daily—a division that finally turns out to be illusion. In this place, the “split panic” of a mother’s mind is no different from the intense purpose of the bees. Here, the “wild distance / folding” reveals that human work is not separate from the beauty of the natural world, whether we are walking the “vacation road” or back in the city. [Read more…]

A Conversation with John Terpstra

This interview originally appeared as a web-exclusive feature for Image issue 63.

terpstraJohn Terpstra has been in church since before he was born. “I have heard everything there is to say about the place, for and against; both its necessity and its redundancy. Have felt it all, in my bones,” he writes.

Issue 63 of Image includes his essay about church, titled “Skin Boat: Acts of Faith and Other Navigations.” Part of a book-length work of the same name now out from Gaspereau Press, the essay interweaves images from Terpstra’s experiences as a poet, woodworker, and lifelong pew-sitter, as well as language from spirituals, the Old Testament, Old English literature, and conversations about church with his wife, friends, and neighbors.

I asked him about the nonfiction he’s been writing lately, and about how this book came to be written. [Read more…]