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.


In His Image

in the image of God

“And God said, Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:26-27). 


“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Not quite angels, King David described humanity in a prayer, saying that we have been created “a little lower than the angels.” In the same breath, however, he notes that mankind has been crowned “with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5).

What is that glory? That honor? In some ways greater than we will ever know, it is that we have been created in the image of God.

I attended a writer’s conference on the theme of “Write His Answer.” An unexpected theme arose during the keynote, as one speaker after another told stories of broken self-image and their continuing journeys toward recreating their identity.

Their stories made me cry. As though they were reaching to something inside me or a part of me that I could not recognize or remember. It was a response I did not expect, and set me on a sort of journey of my own, towards understanding broken or fragile parts of my identity and self-image.

The message in the keynote speeches all led to a single core, the idea of having been created in the image of God. And not only that, but the idea that the losses and the breakings and the hurt all work together toward a single purpose: that of transforming us into the image of Christ.

Made in His image at the beginning . . . and slowly, continually, often painstakingly, being transformed into the image of Christ.

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” the Psalmist asks. Lower than angels. Yet honored with the indescribable gift of a unique identity. An identity hard to grasp and even harder to accept in the midst of the brokenness and cruelty of the world.

But it is our true self. Our deepest self. And understanding that, accepting it, letting that beauty become the reality shaping who we are and who we believe we can become.

Enormous Significance of Stories

Every storyteller … looks out at the world much as you and I look out at it and sees things happening—people being born, growing up, working, loving, getting old, and finally dying—only then, by the very process of taking certain of these events and turning them into a story … does he make a sort of claim about events in general, about the nature of life itself.

And the storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning—that the things that happen to people happen not just by accident like leaves being blown off a tree by the wind but that there is order and purpose deep down behind them or inside them and that they are leading us not just anywhere but somewhere.

The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story.

And this grips us and fascinates us because of the feeling it gives us that if there is meaning in any life … then there is meaning also in our lives. And if this is true, it is of enormous significance in itself, and it makes us listen to the storyteller with great intensity because in this way all his stories are about us and because it is always possible that he may give us some clue as to what the meaning of our lives is. – Frederick Buechner

Tell me a story, and I will listen. Preach and teach, and I might turn away. Or I might smile and nod, but my thoughts and heart are far away.

But begin to relate a story, and something in me opens up to receive. Some say that all the world is a stage. Perhaps it is true in that a stage is the setting for a story.

All the world. A story.

A thousand stories. A million. A billion times a billion. But somehow one.

In the realm of literature, the word “archetype” speaks to the idea that certain stories, characters, or settings stand as representations of all stories, people, and settings. Certain places or characters stand for so much more than the simple part they play in the story. A tree is not only a tree; it is life or knowledge or the loss of innocence. A river is not only a river; it is cleansing or rebirth or maybe even death. White is innocence, purity.

And the hero of the story — no matter how flawed or how near to death he comes, or even if he does die — sends some sort of thrill through the heart of the reader. Maybe it’s that part in each of us that wants to be a hero. Or maybe it’s that deeper part in each of us that wants to be rescued. That knows we need a hero. A rescuer. In the words of some, a Savior.

So we read a story. A thousand stories. And we look — often subconsciously – for those archetypes. For answers. For meaning. For a hero.

And if we are looking, we find. Even in the most random story. Or the darkest. Or most intentionally meaningless. Somehow the storytellers do communicate meaning. Truth. About life. About ourselves. About a Story that encompasses wordlessly all other stories, even the most meaningless, and infuses them with wonder. So that no one and no story and no chapter or paragraph or even word that we live could be construed as without meaning and purpose. Not when an overarching Story is penned by an all-knowing Author. Not when His words are Life and His message is love, and His story is Grace and Truth.

Words Amputated from Story

Words amputated from stories lose accuracy, lose color and energy, congeal into god talk. They are flowers that fade and grow limp. For every theologian, we need five novelists to keep the language personally relational; for every biblical scholar we need another five novelists to keep the language participatory; for every church historian the church needs another five novelists to keep us aware that we are in the story.” – Eugene Peterson

Some people are more the scholarly type. They like to study. I admit, I’m one of them. I’ve always loved to study … mainly because of the reading involved, but also the joy of learning something new. Of challenging myself to understand and assimilate some concept or lesson. At any point in time I’ll usually be reading through some theological or scholarly book.

But at the end of the day, when I want to read for enjoyment, to read for me, I won’t be picking up the latest theological study. I will pick up a novel. A story.

A lot of people say we read to lose ourselves in the story. We don’t.

We read stories to find ourselves.

In the pages. In the narrative. In the overall story. The greatest stories, the ones that stick with us long after we turn the final page, are the ones that ring true. The ones where we see something of ourselves. Our fears. Our hopes. Our scars. Our joys. Those universal feelings that resonate within us viscerally. The things we know to be true without having to be taught it … because we have experienced it.

A favorite author of mine, N. D. Wilson, in a writing class spoke of this. The importance of writing truth into stories. No matter how far out a plot line might be, or whether the story takes place in some fantastic fantasy location, it needs to ring with truth. Good versus evil. The beauty of forgiveness. The power of sacrifice. The purity of light.

When a story or a book does not show forth these elements of truth … the story rings false. It falls short. The reader can’t help but feel something is wrong about that story.

Then there are the stories full of conflict and tragedy, sorrow and loss, even death … but there is hope. There is light. There is love. And these elements thread the story together, weaving a message stronger than the tragedy and loss.

Perhaps you are a novelist. Or a writer of nonfiction. Or simply a passionate reader. But we all have a story to tell. And we all have a story we are living out. Let your story – your stories – ring true. Whether you’re writing it or living it, thread your stories with hope. With the Weaver of all good things. With the Author of Light and Love. The Lord of Truth and Grace.

The Best Stories

Ted Dekker quote

There is one kind of literary device so heavily used in the Bible that many people unintentionally take it for granted. Figurative language. Metaphors and similes and other kind of analogies. Word pictures. …The Bible contains whole books filled with poetry. … God is infinitely intelligent, and since he is the one behind all this figurative language, we must assume that it was and is to this day one of the best ways, if not the best way, to communicate and understand truth.

But what is figurative language, except language that allows the reader to see a figure in his mind and imagine that the subject at hand is like that figure? …

God leans heavily on the human imagination when communicating with humanity. In fact, the use of mental images is God’s primary paradigm for illustrating truth, both through the writers of the Bible and through Christ’s use of parables. – Ted Dekker

A friend of mine, an avid reader like myself, commented that his favorite authors are those who write fiction in addition to nonfiction because they make the best use of analogy and metaphor. They paint a picture with words, bringing those words to life in the mind of the reader — whether writing fiction or nonfiction.

If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, you’ve likely heard the adamant claim that, as a writer, you must “Show, don’t tell.” If you’re in the earlier stages of your writing life, you might still wonder what exactly that means.

Showing instead of telling means painting a picture, using words to open the senses and letting your reader use imagination to fill in the spaces. It means using sensory and descriptive language to wake the reader’s senses. Sights. Smells. Sounds. Tastes. Touches. Textures. It means you’re not using thick, dense wording to explain some vague concept. Instead, you’re telling a story.

If you’re a parent, one of your favorite activities with your children is likely reading them a story, often a story that you loved as a children and are loving anew with your own child. If you look back at that childhood, one of your favorite memories might be listening to your mother or father read or tell you a story, the more realistic and exciting the better. We love stories. It’s in our DNA … or in our soul.

I love fiction, and I’m fascinated and awed by authors who have the ability to portray a story with realistic characters, show the events with sensory language, and weave in truths of life and love, sorrow and hope, loss and redemption, sacrifice and grace. The best stories invoke a glimpse into those pieces of our heart and soul that are so real we recognize them even in the most imaginative tales. They ring with truth. We can see traces of ourselves and of a greater story unfolding all around us. Most of all, the best tales reveal traces of the Author. Of the Greatest Story ever told.

stained glass heart

“The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and also lions. There are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace — all things are there.” – Macarius

Some days, I reach into my heart and write. And I see beauty and light reaching out like golden strands weaving something of meaning. Something, I hope, of truth. Something resulting in love or wonder or purpose.

Other days, I reach into my heart and find shadow and darkness. Questions. Confusion. Blame and guilt. Criticism and discontentment. I dare not dip my quill into such blackness and write.

Why such a dichotomy? Such a vast and great division? Light and darkness. Good and evil. Beauty and beastliness. Pure and the profane. How can all these dwell in a single heart?

A great and ancient writer spoke of the heart of man being desperately wicked. Yet that same heart has the ability, the power, the gift, to search for an unsearchable treasure: to know an unknowable God. A God that floods the hearts with beauty and wonder. A God who takes the horror and the tragedy and pieces together in His mystery a tapestry. A story.

The stories I love the most blend chaos with order, hate and horror with love and healing. Brokenness with sacrifice and redemption. Lostness with being found and belonging. Because every heart, at some time, sounds the deep recesses and we know of what we are made. And it scares us how vast and far and dark the darkness goes.

And yet, even there shines a starlike pinprick of light. Of love. Of truth. Like hope and love and sacrifice in even the darkest stories. Like restoration and new life bursting from an acrid, wasted ground. The ground of our life. Our stories, with grime and dust and mistakes clinging to our souls, yet with a Word speaking that His mercies are new every morning. That His Light will shine the distance and pierce the depths even of the darkest heart. That His Love will stretch as far as East is from the West, encompassing all that therein is and redeeming it by His blood.

The darkest stories are the sweetest stories when they resound with the truth of this Word, this Light, this Love.

A God Who Hides

A God Who Hides

In a meditation on this verse, Belden C. Lane remarks that he used to fret about how his children played hide-and-seek. His son would bellow out, “Ready!” when he had found a good hiding place, which of course instantly gave him away. Lane, the father, kept reviewing the point of the game – “You’re supposed to hide, not give your position away!” – until one day it dawned on him that from his son’s perspective he had missed the point of the game. The fun comes in being found, after all. Who wants to be left alone, undiscovered?

“God is like a person who clears his throat while hiding and so gives himself away,” said Meister Eckhart. Perhaps God also feels pleasure in being found? – Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God

For those of us who “get” the game hide-and-seek (anyone over the age of, say, four or five), it’s fairly straightforward. One person counts to 20 or 30 or 60; the others hide. The seeker calls out, “Ready or not, here I come!” and searches for the other players. The ease of the game is that the seeker knows exactly who is hiding, so of course knows when they have been found.

Not so with God, if He is the one being sought. We don’t know exactly what He looks like, and what is more, He reveals Himself in different ways to different seekers. Author Anne Lamott described her experience in coming to faith something like being followed by a stray kitten; once she let Him in, she knew she’d be stuck with Him. Francis Thompson described God as a relentless hound. Elijah, a prophet of the Old Testament, beheld Him revealed in fire and power on Mount Carmel … and as a still, small voice as he hid from an evil king and queen.

How do we win in such a game? How can we find God when He, as Philip Yancey suggests, first hides Himself, and then … when He is discovered, is rarely the same thing twice? A kitten here. A blood hound there. A wildfire here. A whisper there. Ten plagues upon Egypt here. Ten Commandments there.

An early follower of Jesus must have felt something similar, for in his frustration or confusion he said something to the effect of, “Just show us the Father … show us God … and it will be enough for us.” (John 14:8)

Jesus didn’t bring out the scrolls of prophet parchment or the stories of a people to whom God had revealed Himself as Yahweh or Jehovah. He simply said, “Have I been so long with you, and you still don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9-10)

So we play hide-and-seek. Yes, we do see God in different ways … depending on our early experiences of faith, our background, our treatment by our own parents and siblings. But more often than not, we’re the ones hiding, even while we’re seeking. Howard Macy notes of this hide-and-seek game, “while we have been pursuing God, he has been rushing toward us with reckless love, arms flung wide to hug us home.”

And that reckless love, those arms wide open, are revealed most fully in Jesus, in the cross, in what He did for us there. Dying to redeem all of mankind. To redeem every part of this broken world. To call us out of hiding and into the arms of grace.