May 20, 2010
In my book Novel Preaching I tell of having lunch with the chair of the English Department at SMU. C.W. Smith. Dr. Smith is the award winning author of several novels and short stories, most recently the novel Purple Hearts, a story set in a small Texas town during W.W. II. Dr. Smith commented to me, “The most difficult thing in teaching 18 year olds creative writing is getting them to notice what they see. The second thing is to get them to have the confidence that what they notice has some significance.”
When he said that, the phrase “knack for noticing,” came into my mind. I had the thought: that’s what preachers need to cultivate too. Hence KFN. Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones,” calls this “composting.” “We collect experiences, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grins, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heart, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories.”
This is no new notion. The mystics of a variety of religions have recommended attentiveness to the present moment as a source of insight. The Bible is full of the fruits of its writers’ attentiveness to what God is doing in their daily lives: images, metaphors, scenes, conversations, and memories. I’ve been working on a sermon series on 2 Corinthians for a Presbyterian Women’s Conference I’m preaching for at Mo Ranch, Texas the first week of June.
In meditating on 2 Corinthians 4:7 (“We have this treasure in clay jars…”) I had the insight more clearly than I have in past readings that Paul was a composter. His image of earthen vessels (cheap, ordinary, easily breakable) is a metaphor for our embodied existence, our imperfect, pain- filled lives, our frail, expendable, temporary bodies. It came to him somehow, from somewhere. I say it came to him when he put his imagination in the service of the Holy Spirit as he went about his daily life. He exercised his knack for noticing. So did the prophets. Jeremiah’s visit to the Potter’s House features a potter and a clay pot, as metaphors for our lives and the way God shapes and reshapes them.
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord;
Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words. ‘
So I went down to the potter’s house and there he was working at his wheel.
The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”(Jeremiah 18:1-6)
If it weren’t for the fog…
A friend of mine, Deb, told me about her trip to Copenhagen years ago. It was raining and foggy while she was there. She and her husband had booked a bus tour of the area. They assumed it would be cancelled or postponed. But no, the guide went ahead with the tour. They got on the bus and, as they rode through the fog-shrouded landscape, the guide would point out the window and say, “If it weren’t for the fog, you would see over there ….. and, a few miles later, “If it weren’t for the fog, you would see out the left side of the bus…….if it weren’t for the fog, you would see….
The Church as a light house
I know a man who is in his late 70’s. He lost his wife and daughter the same year about 5 years ago.
“I was in the Navy,” he told me. “And so I tend to think of things in images from that service. So the church to me is a beacon, a lighthouse. Sometimes, during that year, I would just come and sit in my car in the parking lot. I didn’t need to go in and bother anybody. I’d just sit there and that was a comfort to me”
No speeches needed, just believe
In his wonderful book, On Writing, novelist Stephen King talks about a discouraging time in his life, when, as a young father and husband, he was teaching creative writing in a high school in Hampden, Maine and working part time in a Laundromat. He says this of his wife Tabby.
My wife made a crucial difference during those two years I spent teaching at Hampden (and washing sheet at New Franklin Laundry during the summer vacation). If she had suggested that the time I spent writing stories on the front porch of our rented house on Pond Street or in the laundry room of our rented trailer on Klatt Road in Hermon was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me. Tabby never voiced a single doubt, however. Her support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough. (pp. 73-74)
James Bond at Blockbusters
A while back John Stewart interviewed Daniel Craig, the British actor who plays James Bond. “Have you ever made a bad movie?” Stewart, using slightly different language, asked Craig. “I was in Blockbuster one time and saw one of my early films. I picked it up and hid it behind the display counter.“
If even the ever-suave, perpetually cool James Bond has made a mistake that continues to embarrass him. There may be hope for the rest of us.
“I’m starting to think it’s me.”
I read an article about rocker Gregg Allman in Rolling Stone a while back. On the subject of his many marriages, he commented, I think this is my 6th marriage. I’m starting to think it’s me.”
“I began to see more clearly as I lost my sight.”
My friend Helen is 89. I visited her a few weeks ago. I knew she was nearly blind, but wasn’t aware of how long she had dealt with the condition.
“I began to lose my eyesight in 1980,” she told me. “Before that I’d been a half hearted Christian. But sitting in the doctor’s office, as the eye doctor was telling me the bad news, I experienced God saying to me ‘It’s better to lose your physical sight than to lose your spiritual sight.’ My immediate thought was ‘How about I don’t lose either?’ And It has been very trying to live with limited vision. But from that point on, I began to have a clearer sense of direction, of priorities, and a stronger sense of God’s presence. I began to see things more clearly as I lost my sight.”