Once Upon a Time – Frederick Buechner


JESUS DOES NOT sound like Saint Paul or Thomas Aquinas or John Calvin when we hear him teaching in the Gospels. “Once upon a time” is what he says. Once upon a time somebody went out to plant some seeds. Once upon a time somebody stubbed a toe on a great treasure. Once upon a time somebody lost a precious coin. The Gospels are full of the stories Jesus tells, stories that are alive in somewhat the way the truth is alive, the way he himself is alive when Pilate asks him about truth, and his silence is a way of saying “Look at my aliveness if you want to know! Listen to my life!” Matthew goes so far as to tell us that “he said nothing to them without a parable,” that is to say without a story, and then quotes the words, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” In stories the hiddenness and the utterance are both present, and that is another reason why they are a good way of talking about God’s truth which is part hidden and part uttered too.

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The Carpenter’s Masterpiece


a child's drawingMy older brother and sister were wonderful artists. By the time I reached the age of six or seven, I somehow knew that they were artists … and that I was not. Their artwork has progressed and so has mine. I have realized that my main form of artistic expression is words rather than pictures. But during a phase of experimenting with sketching, when I was 17 or so, I showed my mom my greatest masterpiece up to that point. She looked at it and smiled. “Do you remember when you used to cry because your brother and sister drew pictures you wished you could draw?”

She recalled a time that I wished I could draw something they had copied, and I couldn’t do it. I grew frustrated, crumpled a picture smudged with tears, and threw it away.

I don’t recall that incident. Probably a good thing. But I do remember looking up to them, their art. Wishing I could draw like that. I used the same paper, the same pencil colors and crayons. Why was their work so lovely when mine was so amateur?

I did not understand and stayed away from creativity for a long time. I put aside my art book and picked up a writing book instead … but only years later.

Of course, now I can see that many things take time to come to fruition. Even now I wouldn’t say that I see fruit, yet I know my passion lies in writing. And as an artist – at least of words – my greatest inspiration lies in other works of art. Music, most often; photos, drawings, dance – people choosing to express the depth of their soul through arts of various form and style.

I envision a sculptor, a painter, a builder, standing with bare, raw material before them, knowing what they want to create and that it will only be a matter of time before it is done. Perhaps they don’t know exactly what difficulties they will face in their building. Various things come into play – the weather for a house builder. They pray for the rain to stay away during certain stages of construction. The artist prays for inspiration, that their hands will be sure as they move.

But their material is in front of them and they are familiar with it. They know what they want to create and they are sure of themselves and their abilities. The painter does not grow frustrated with his brush, crack it in half, crumple up the paper and throw it away. The sculptor does not push aside the piece of wood when he is only half done. They know that with perseverance and time, their masterpiece will be complete.

I see a Carpenter who put aside His work of building simple piece of wood structures in order to work with His hands and heart to draw out the very souls of men.

It was then as it is now.

He sees the raw materials of our lives. He sees the laughter and the tears, the frustrations, the anger, the sorrows, the misunderstandings. The hopes and dreams that shattered and scattered. But He does not grow angry. His work is sure and steady, his hands adept. Perhaps the things with which He has to work – the souls of men, of you and me, are not always pliable in His hands.

Often we look up in misunderstanding and sorrow, in weariness at the moldings and the makings and cry out, “Why have you made me thus?” Still He continues to work the perfect work He knows His creation will become. For He makes everything beautiful in its time. We might ask for a little more color, for a greater variety of materials, for a bit of time outside the workshop … or a bit more time in the workshop when we are set aside to weather. Still His hands are steady and sure, His movements deft, His knowledge infinite of what He wants to accomplish within us – the works of His hands.

All creation declares what can be made, what we can become, if only we choose to stop and listen and believe in the works of His hands.

Wonder for Writing – A New Year Resolution


Brennan Manning quote

“Our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter – in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a child licking a chocolate ice cream cone, in a woman with windblown hair. God intended for us to discover His loving presence in the world around us.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

The gift of writing is a certain grace, and it begins – in many ways – with a sense of wonder. A writer takes in the sweetness of the world, and the pain, the joy and the sorrow, the windblown moments of awe and the heart-catching times of silence. The task, the duty, the privilege of a writer is to see it all. To look upon the beauty and the shame of the world and of us who live within it, and write with wonder and fearlessness for the sake of that world. For the sake of us who live within it.

Writing, and those words written, are a dispensation of wonder … or they can be. When the words are riveted with grace, fastened with that ever-deepening sense of awe and gratitude, the result is beauty for the world. A ray of light. Of truth. But it begins with eyes open, and a heart seeking the sweet exchange of God and nature. Seeing His fingerprint, ever so lightly, tracing all things within the world. The opening and closing of a blue butterfly’s wings as it rests upon a daisy. A stone beneath the ripples of a stream, its colors brought to life by the waters. A child’s trusting smile at the promise of a loving parent. A writer is beckoned to move slowly enough through the world to see these things, to reflect on the story whispering beneath the sight, and to write of them.

A New Year begins. It begins when I feel as if the past year has charged past without me having taken stock of it. But it is gone. So many moments of raw beauty and wordless wonder passed by. How many did I miss with my eyes closed, or my gaze fastened upon the weight of my daily tasks and concerns? Too many. Too many for a writer who feels the beckoning of truth and light and wonder and grace … but only when I stop and take the time to truly look and listen and see.

A New Year begins, and it begins with the desire to see the world with wonder anew. For my sake and for the sake of my children and husband. For the sake of a God of love, who dispenses cupfuls of color and joy and laughter at every step of nature and asks us to behold His glory. And to measure it out freely to the world. The measure of a writer is her words.

God, this year, let my words, my thoughts, my writings and my deeds, whisper the weight of Your glory and love, and bring glory to You. It begins with a sense of wonder at all You do and all You are. Let me move slowly, breathlessly enough to see Your works with eyes of awe and gratefulness for all that You are. Amen.

A Jingle of Words 


Don’t you love the common words
In usage all the time;
Words that paint a masterpiece,
Words that beat a rhyme,
Words that sing a melody,
Words that leap and run,
Words that sway a multitude,
Or stir the heart of one?

Don’t you love the lively words—
Flicker, leap and flash,
Tumble, stumble, pitch and toss,
Dive and dart and dash,
Scramble, pirouette and prance,
Hurtle, hurdle, fling,
Waddle, toddle, trot and dance,
Soar and snatch and swing?

Don’t you love the lengthy words—
Subterranean,
Artificial, propagate,
Neopolitan,
Revelation, elevate,
Ambidextrous
Undenominational,
Simultaneous?

Don’t you love the noisy words—
Clatter, pop, and bang,
Scrape and creak and snarl and snort,
Crash and clash and clang,
Crackle, cackle, yowl and yap,
Snicker, snare and sneeze,
Screech and bellow, slash and howl,
Whistle, whine and wheeze?

Don’t you love the colourful—
Amber, rose and gold,
Orchid, orange and cerise,
Crimson, emerald,
Purple, plum and lavender,
Peach and Prussian blue,
Turquoise matrix, jade and jet,
Hazel, honeydew?

Yes, with just the common words
In usage everywhere,
You can capture incidents
Beautiful and rare.
In words you have a weapon
More mighty than a gun;
You can sway the multitude
Or stir the heart of one.

—Betty Scott Stam