Emerging from the Wordsmithy

The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written i...

The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written in alliterative verse and paragraphs, not in lines or stanzas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to write and write and write poems. 5 a week. Sometimes I would write for 6 hours a day. I loved to draw attention to the overlooked, everyday things of life. The magical things. The deep things in the foreground of our daily lives that we just don’t see because we’re usually so busy.

Then I was converted, over a two year period, from the age of 23-25. At the time I was baptized,  I had a fellowship with Jack Straw Productions and was well on my way to a promising career as a poet. But as the months passed me by and I began to read Spurgeon instead of Rousseau and Tolkien instead of Patchen, I found that something was different. I couldn’t escape how vainglorious my work had always been. I read it with new eyes and found that it was humanistic, shallow and self-centered.

I continued to write after my conversion, but I couldn’t help it from becoming sermonic. I would pull out my pocket notebook and pen and pour drivel all over the pristine page. Though I was clothed in the white of the lamb, my words were full of kitsch christian platitudes.

A writer works for many years to develop a recognizable typology which gives their work depth and complexity. But what I quickly discovered was that all my old types were inadequate to describe the world that God had made; to describe the world with my new eyes. Before my conversion my view of the world lacked color, depth, incarnation, forgiveness, thankfulness and joy. I had no idea how to see or describe the Trinitarian world.

I discovered, at this time, a world full of far more magic and wonder than I ever believed possible, and yet, I found that the imagery I had on hand to express that wonder, was still full of death. So my work took on a new kind of shallowness. I simply repeated the new phrases and catch words I was learning as a christian. I wanted to Glorify God with my words but I had lost the ability to do so in an artful and poetic way. The new of the bible was an unimpressive tool in my hands. I had not yet learned the muscle memory, nor developed the strength to wield the hammer of Christianity in the wordsmithy. All my work came out bent, unshapely and dull.

I found myself in the winter of 2013 without the familiar paper and pen in my pocket. I had all but given up writing poems. I couldn’t even remember the last poem I had written. I was staring out the bus window, realizing, I hadn’t even enjoyed that old pastime for an age. I used to write a lot of poems on the bus as the world flew by.

I got off the bus and started toward my car. A strange sound lifted my head to the sky and there were thousands of birds. Thousands. Filling the sky. It is hard to explain. I live in the migration path of a variety of birds and several times a year the sky over our house turns into some kind of apocalyptic event. It is startling in its magnitude.  And I had not the words to describe it.

I longed for that old sight. I used to look  and see the beautiful thing that I, and everyone else, had walked by without noticing. I longed to see the majesty in life and how could I not, when now I knew that majesty by name? He walks in the cool of the day with me. Now, I couldn’t even describe the thing everyone saw.

All the new ideas of art and meaning began to sing in my mind. I have moved on from seeking a career as a writer, but I couldn’t give up my love of words. It has served me well in writing prayers and sermons. Theology as Poetry is the name of this blog because I think understanding Poetic Knowledge and the God of Words is the key to understanding ourselves and our world.

But there was no connecting harmony in all these new ideas about art I was reading. They swirled and crashed like a meteor shower in my mind. Peter Leithart‘s Deep Exegesis, N.D. Wilson‘s Notes of a Tilta-whirl, Tolkein’s Tree and Leaf, Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’ COnnor, Jacob’s The Narnian, Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson and Is Theology Poetry? by C.S. Lewis. What is the point of words? Of writing? Why do we have gifts? What are they for? How does a gift of words function? The World is God’s spoken word. Our authority for life and practice is a library of 66 books. A sparrow falls to the ground and the LORD knows it. Jesus wept. Spring is a resurrection.

In the Beginning was the word and the Word was God….I am a man of the book and so I am a man of books…In the beginning was God and He said…I am a man of the Word, and so I am a man of words……

And in that moment I did what I had rarely done before. I prayed about my love for words. I didn’t want to seek after anything contrary to God’s will or Glory. I did not want to yearn to do that which I was not called to do. I prayed that if I had a gift for words, that God would use it for His Kingdom. I laid it at His feet in a way I had never done before. And I experienced a peace I had never felt before.

The next morning as I situated myself in my seat on the bus, I looked out the window and saw a strip mall covered in birds, hundreds upon hundreds of birds like an Egyptian plague. The new ideas about meaning and art came into glorious harmony.  I saw something in those birds I had never noticed before and so I took up pen and ink and wrote this.

It was different than anything I had written before and as I shaped it, I felt the weight of a new hammer in my hands. I felt strong to lift it and power to wield it. God’s gifts are the gifts He grants us to give Him glory. May we all be brave enough to trust Him and humble enough to take up our gifts in humility.

Two weeks later I wrote this:

As the days waiver
and the sun goes to seed
in the flooded heavens

The temptation to blend in
with the drab palllete of
mirthless winter, overshadows

A people of evergreen and slate, waiting for the bus

As the will of the drab master seeps in
driving us away, from outside
we turn inward

But the rebel in citrus and rose
enters the scene of decay like
a whisper, turns one head
then another

A dawn of recollection
Eyes yawn from the sleep of winter hues
The flash turns minds out
toward ripeness and hope

Stirs, for a moment
tastes of Spring

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