It takes courage to be an essayist, to wake up every day with the resolve to tack enough damp words to paper until some stick. I don’t have that kind of courage, because I don’t take the time to gather words in the morning dew. I don’t stoop down and collect any for myself. I hand out words along with stacks of folded laundry and spoonfuls of spaghetti sauce, but I don’t collect them. I grade them, sort them, translate and even barter them, but I keep none.
The Poetry Pub is hosting a November Poem-a-Day challenge. I’m not sure I’ll participate every day this month, but we’ll see! It’s good to stretch my writing muscles in a non-commercial, non-blogging way. You can see the prompts for each day of the challenge here, on The Poetry Pub’s Instagram account. The first prompt was “hello”, and here’s what I wrote —
When I was a girl, the grocery stores started to run out of food.
They didn’t tell you that, because it was a corner of the world you’re not supposed to understand, and they don’t tell you how to become a writer, either. Everyone is supposed to become a reader — they tell you that in school — but it remains a mystery how some readers are able to metamorphose into writers.
After all, the writer concerns himself with not just the reason why civilizations fall, but also the American supermarket, the meaning in dappled bananas on the counter at sunrise, the effervescence of this present moment, and using words incorrectly.
No one teaches you how to be writer, except maybe poets and historians.
We start the school year inside one set of walls, and wind it down inside a new set of walls down an old-new highway, further away from the maddening din. We fling open the curtains and let in the newfound light as we hold the books in our hands. Our left hands grow heavier and our right hands grow lighter and lighter as we creep toward the end of the school year, page by page by page.
We rearrange the shelves and fold paint over the walls and fold up sweaters and make the beds and unroll rugs and dream of where we’ll plant sunflowers and cherry tomatoes.
The coffee maker hums and my brain runs back and forth, jumping from track to track: eleven-year-old and two-year-old, eldest and youngest, deodorant and diapers. I swing from Chinese to Greek to toddler English, drawing brackets around grand middle-grade essays and then enunciating consonants and vowels for the smallest little friend. The light rises and falls, rises and falls, rises and falls.
Outside, the news rages. Zealots call for cancellation, call for vengeance, scream at you for the wrong kind of silence or the wrong kind of words, screaming for no reason at all. We all weep. The news cycle drains and spins, drains and spins, drains and spins.
Inside, we sing: Kyrie, eleison.
The marquee at the gas station around the corner winds up. I look away. Someone texts more doom, another soundbite, more fire and ice — another way the world will end.
Music floats in and out and in again. I reach, and grab it.
We press on: dishes and poetry, mopping and tantrums, sunrise and bedtimes.
2021 sweeps in, steadily. Time marches and flies, ebbs and flows, for better and for worse. November, December, January float away, torn calendar pages of the past.
Inside our homes, the steam sinks ceiling-bound from the mugs of steaming coffee, and tired spoons clink on bowls of stirred porridge. Babies cry, faucets run, doors creak on hinges, cars roll by. The news scrolls. Numbers upward, spirits downward, hopelessness slung around. Talking heads spout carelessly. Some seethe, some hide, few stand up and whisper truth.
We do not listen.
The damage digs in to all of us.
Inside our homes, laundry tumbles, wet. Tired arms mop up footprints and wipe away crumbs. Babies cry, faucets run, doors creak on hinges, cars roll by. The pages open. Stories deepening, spirits upward, hope burst up and waters us, like a snow melting down the mountain in the spring. Listening ears tuck treasures thoughtfully. Some ponder, some wonder, many stand up and shout the truth.
His redemption springs forth anew in all of us.
March pads softly in, rapping quietly at the door. Something stirs beneath the frozen soil. We stand up, square our shoulders back, and walk squarely into the sun.
Choose rest. This phrase is everywhere right now, emblazoned on mugs and novelty socks and faux-aged farmhouse signs, slipping its way into the vernacular with very little thought given as to what it really means.
See, there’s a big difference between choosing when to rest, and choosing to have an attitude of rest. The former retains control over how and when (we’ll decide); the latter is a posture of surrender to the life God has given to us now, in this very place and time.
As an introvert and a lover of my home, I thought I had a handle on this. “I’m okay with rest,” I would have answered if asked; “I’m fine with downtime, with hobbitesque weekends burrowed away.” “Ask me anytime,” I would have said, “and I’ll gladly acquiesce to expanding margin and simpler schedules.”
But when Lochlan was born prematurely, everything changed.
Why do evangelicals ignore ancient church history? Why do nondenominational churches reject liturgy? Why is there such a gap between American evangelicalism and global Christianity? //
When I was rebranding this blog, I wanted to include the term “liturgy” in my tag line. But my multi-faith writers’ group quickly said no. Liturgy, they said, was synonymous with Catholicism. I countered liturgy simply meant “the work of the people”, as in
the intentional environment we create,
our patterns, and
the way we worship through the consistent choices we make daily.
Everything we routinely do is our liturgy, I argued. Besides, even in the context of church, Catholics do not own the term. Many Protestant worship services contain liturgical elements. My colleagues dissuaded me. I compromised, concluded I’ve spent too much time reading the dictionary, and went with the word “rhythms” instead.
But the exchange stayed with me, and I haven’t been able to stop asking questions. (I still like the word “liturgy.”) Why do we tend to think liturgy is Catholic? Don’t even the most seeker-friendly emergent evangelical churches practice many repetitive liturgies of their own invention — for example, in the distinct and recognizable way a worship team continues to play chords and pluck guitar strings while the leader transitions from singing to prayer at the end of the first set of songs, every single week?
Why are so many Christians determined to reinvent and rename the entire church experience, swapping out every term for something more relevant and hip?
Why do evangelicals shun the concise ancient creeds and write forty-page Statements of Faith instead? (Seriously, why?)
Why do American evangelicals think there’s an inverse relationship between the quantity of art in a church in the the quantity of holiness? Why is “church art” dismissed as religious in non-denominational circles?
Has America’s history of intense individualism really had that much effect on the way we view worship? (In other words, can we blame our uniquely-American hangups on the Puritans?)