I have two stories in mind as I launch my blog boat today - one is true and one is made up. The true story took place when my son C was a small boy. I had settled him into bed, and as I stood up, I told him that I was leaving, but God would be with him. His eyes grew wide. "Do you mean that God is here in this room?" I smiled and nodded, happy enough to give this glib comfort so I could return to my book. His face took on a look of panic. He pulled his hands out from under the bed cover and slapped them together. "Here", he said, with solemn intensity - "I've got him. Take him away." I cupped my hands around his, separated them off with care, and carried God out to the hall where I flicked 'him' into the dark like a small moth. Done!
The other story was one that I heard recently. It went like this: God was in heaven with the angels. God was badgered day and night by prayers from humans, always asking for this or that. The angels noticed how tired God looked, and said they would find a hiding place so God could have some peace. They took God into the heart of a forest, to find a place to rest in the soft dark undergrowth. But soon the clamour returned. The prayers had found God, and they were as noisy and demanding as ever. Then the angels said: "We'll try another hiding place. We'll take you to a cave. It's high in the mountains; its opening is hard to find. The humans will never find you there." But the same thing happened. No sooner had God arrived, than the prayers and petitions came pouring through the gap in the rockface and into the cave. The angels thought and thought, then one of them spoke up. "I have an idea: we'll hide you in the human heart. Hardly anyone will find you there."
Banished in one, scuttling for cover in the other, god is present in both stories in fascinating roles. Where does god reside? Can we find him/her - catch god even? Do we want to? Over the years my theology, once reasonably sturdy, has fallen away. Now, with a sweet pile of twigs remaining, I am standing in the open, feeling curious and responsive. I hear about, am drawn to the idea of divine encounter, espoused by those who have embraced spiritual exercise such as silence and meditation, and by those who are impelled into creative expression (surely branches of the same tree.) Yesterday I posted a ted talk on youtube where author Elizabeth Gilbert invites us to loosen up and cock our ear/heart to the divine muse - the genie that lives outside of ego. She relates the story of a poet, now in her 90s, whose divine daimon would come at full throttle - an earth shuddering, thundering horse-like creature. My son likens his poetry writing to vomiting; the creative impulse a spasming affair, where the body pitches and the formed poem is expelled - sometimes at astonishing speed. I loved reading vespersparrow's experience as described on her blog - an intensely delicate, heightened sense of encounter, that indicates she is about to write.
As for me - who knows, but I will keep faith. After all, I have carried god between my palms. In the meantime, as Elizabeth Gilbert so beautifully puts it: just keep showing up and get on with the job. Ole.
How to Write like E. B. White
2 weeks ago