All in Vocation

I listen for what I can affirm. I presume that people have treasured enthusiasms that are worthy of affirmation in some small way, and I try to find out what is it about the football game or even the legislation that seems to address a hope or a fear in that person. I start there and see where we can go. I do that in the classroom all the time, when I say something that leads a student to conclude that I’m not on their side. I try to provoke. I think everything I say I really believe, but I do try and direct it in such a way that it invites a sometimes passionate response, or at least that makes the person feel they must respond in order to be true to who they are. And once they do that, that’s not the end of the conversation. That’s the beginning of more questions.

I want to live a contemplative life and, as an extension of that, to be a contemplative writer. I already tend toward that kind of life. I love thinking and getting into the deep space in my mind to explore and make connections. But getting into that space in a meaningful way can be difficult because it requires time and space. If there are no empty spaces for contemplation, there is no contemplation. 

When a Dream Becomes a Life

Vocations are not occupations, though they are integrally woven together. To know the difference and the difference it makes is critical, and much of the grief we experience is borne of missing one for the other. Vocation is always the longer, deeper story of someone’s life; for Joy, she was always the creative creator of things she would make that the whole world would someday enjoy. Occupation is not that, but is more the way we describe the things we do along the way of life, entering into particular responsibilities and relationships that are ours, and while shaping and forming us, are more often than not signposts of the deeper vocation. They are not the point; they point to the point.

It’s not only that God shines out from orange slices and bookshelves. It’s that with grace, these things make love and goodness. These things—caring for these things, building and cleaning and keeping these things—make a place for the heart to rest and be cared for.

I am contemplative and introverted. I am tactile and love to make things. These are all catalysts for articulating my individuality. I am also an alcoholic, a drug addict, an egomaniac with an inferiority complex and an emotional lightning rod. These things do not supply my identity either, though they are as much a part of me as the traits I cherish. And I am equally grateful for them because the helplessness they triggered ushered me further into dependence on God and finding my place on the path, one step at a time.

Like committing crummy jokes to memory, remembering is intentional, the discovery of great gain in contentment. Where the debris of spilled baggage reaches its angle of repose, the place where physical objects come to rest along an incline (to borrow from Wallace Stegner), there is rest from the near-constant onslaught of shame, of striving to be enough, to make ourselves worthy, to, in effect, make gods of ourselves. And maybe not being enough is a healthy place to be, a place where God is good and is enough, all the time.

I think fiction writers do have something I lack. They must have the capacity to close their eyes, at least a little bit, to the world outside their window. With eyes half open they are free to imagine. Free to conjure whole worlds and lives. They are magicians as much as artists, and I am the grateful recipient of their magic.

But I cannot close my eyes. Not even a little bit. I write nonfiction because so many memories are tapping at my window, there is no room left in my mind for any invention. I am wholly preoccupied observing and studying that which is already there. 

Love Never Fails

We’re giving ourselves to these things, piece by very tiny piece. But before and amid all of that we’re giving ourselves to God and to each other. We’re relearning that we belong to each other already, that all things and people are connected. We’re creating space where we can remember who we are and whose we are — where we know we’re not alone.

In the Name of the Father

I did not know then nor do I know now the full nature of God. No one does, but we’re given glimpses through the revelation of nature, the testament of history and its saints, and especially through the ordinary people who love us and mark our days. As a child my earthly father represented whatever goodness, safety, and unconditional love there was to be found in this world. And that has everything to do with why I call myself a Christian today, and can still refer to God as Father, problematic though it may be for me as a 21st-century woman.

When I sat down last Friday night, I expected to hear an essay — fresh, different, perhaps unpublished — on one of his go-to topics, whether the environment, social justice concerns, or some other aspect of intentional living. Since the day I’d booked him, I’d been waiting for the moment when he’d take the stage and begin reading — his deeply rooted ethos already apparent, piercing — and then I would steal glances around the room to see the shock of recognition on the faces of my students, see the visible signs of narrative transport taking them to a new place with a master at the helm.

But something else happened. Not something bad, not less than . . . just different. 

The Mother & Child Project

The role of the artist in society is unique. Unlike bankers, teachers, police officers, senators, doctors, or professors, artists stand at the margins of society and write poetry and prose rife with metaphor and images as a kind of prophetic voice, hopefully with a vision of truth and love. This vision can empower community, uplifting the vulnerable, and provide a newfound hope for a better life for all. The artist has the power to bend language to her will to get “between the lines” of poetry to allow what the Bible calls “true religion” to emerge. With this perspective, there is beauty, clarity, and pure advocacy.

It was the hardest assignment I’ve ever been given. It had to be a certain length. It had to work musically with the tone of the visuals. It had to comment on what was going on onscreen without describing it, so it had to add subtext. I loved the challenge, and I’m still really happy with the final product. Auden claimed to have written a poem in every meter style that had ever existed. And if someone came up with one he hadn’t heard of before, he’d write it down and try to create a new poem in that meter. Pure craft, right?