Theophany

It’s raining. 

Through three months of a harsh Arkansas winter, I have positively ached for spring, for warm weather and the sweetness of dogwood-scented air. I’m ready for the rain to collect not in sheets of ice, but in puddles that I can splash in. Today, the storm is lumbering through the sky, powerful but peaceful, like a mother bear coming out of hibernation. Her thunder doesn’t roar; it just yawns. 

The delicious dripping of the rain is distracting me from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, homework for my Victorian Lit class, but I can’t force myself back into that dreary world. By putting his heroine through every problem a Victorian woman could possibly face, Thomas Hardy aims to prove his truly tragic point of view. Through this lens, God either does not exist at all, or He is malevolent, playing with humanity’s sorrows like pawns in a sadistic game. (Isn’t Thomas Hardy technically the one causing Tess’s suffering? Who’s malevolent now?)

Right now, as the lightning flickers through my window, I can’t see God playing with our sorrows– only with the flash on His celestial camera. That’s what my parents used to tell me, anyway. Those white forks of electricity burning through the sky are only God, taking pictures of me from heaven. Now that I’m older, though, I think they might have gotten it backwards. Maybe it’s God inviting me to take pictures of Him.

Tonight the campus library department is hosting a Faith and Film conference to look at how the Father shows up in the movies. As a storyteller, I’m enthralled by these kinds of discussions. In Christ all things hold together; not only my salvation and the storm clouds, but the creative imagination, too. It only follows that all truly good stories will echo His story, whether their authors intend the reference or not. All creation is telling that story.

These echoes bounce off the walls of the Starbucks community room, threads in the Story’s tapestry. We leave no genre untouched. In the death of Darth Vader and the redemption of the good man Anakin Skywalker, we get an other-earthly look at God’s saving power. When Walt Disney’s Beast transforms into a man, saved by the power of true love, we look to Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature…” Lewis and Tolkien make their obligatory appearances, affirming story, myth, fiction, Middle-Earth, and Narnia as windows into the Eternal. If God is the underlying structure of the world (and He is), good stories are cracks in the earth, allowing us to catch a glimpse of His glory.

By the time I step back out into the rain-kissed night, I’m pulsing with the joy of being not just a Christian, not just a writer, but both. More than anything, I want to carve one of those cracks in the earth myself, to let the Story shine in one more place. The cool Arkansas air, still fragrant and pure from the rain, nuzzles my skin. The stars, glinting in the velvet night, declare the glory of God. So does Star Wars. So did the thunderstorm.

And so will I. 

Dogwood

The bell has long since rung,

but these dogwood trees

(more puppies yet than dogs)

with their begging bark

call out to me, “Stay;” 

stay outside and play.” 

My bag, heavy with Tennyson

Aristotle, the Apostle Paul

(dog lovers all, I would bet)

tugs at its twin leashes

around my collarbones, 

but I, living to obey

the Master who made dogwoods

speak to me, I plant myself

in springtime, sit, and stay.

Crown Him with Many Crowns

Stressed, exhausted, and caked with fake blood, I sit in the house of my school’s theatre, waiting with the Macbeth cast for our Wednesday night devotional to start. Next to me sits a witch, her face painted like a skeleton, varicose veins snaking down her arms. A moment ago she was stabbing Banquo, over and over again, trying to get the timing down. Later tonight, she will conjure apparitions, bring Satan’s voice from the depths of hell. Macbeth himself sits a few rows down from me, having already murdered several innocents. Now, we’re going to worship God.

Our director, not missing the irony of the situation, challenges us to rise above the gore surrounding us and set our minds on things above. Moments later, our voices are rising through the fog that’s been flooding the stage for days now, a welcome light in the mirky darkness. Here, against the backdrop of our story’s tragedy, the words of our songs strike me with new poignancy.

“Lord, reign in me; reign in Your power.”

“Hosanna, You’re my King.”

“Worthy is the Lamb, seated on the throne. Crown You now with many crowns; You reign victorious.”

If you’ve read or seen the Scottish play, you’ll remember Macbeth’s insatiable desire to ascend the throne of Scotland and secure his line for generations. In pursuit of this goal, he murders all who stand in his way, even his best friend.  We watch this descent into madness and it shocks us, because we’re not murderers. We don’t care about the throne of Scotland. We can’t imagine how anyone could commit such heinous crimes.

But now I’m realizing that so many times in my life, I have been Macbeth.

When I tell myself I don’t want any thrones, I’m lying. I may not covet political power, but just like every other member of the human race, I love to sit on the throne of my own life. My tragic flaw, like Macbeth’s, is my unquenchable thirst for control. I, too, have supplanted the King and His Son and set myself in power. It doesn’t turn out any better for me than for Macbeth. Each time, my best plans go awry, Birnham comes to Dunsinane, and I am defeated.

In his final battle the tragic villain, knowing his end is coming, shouts in rage, “I will not yield to kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet!” He’s so maddened by his power that he prefers dying as a treacherous king than living as a faithful subject. Would the young prince have spared Macbeth’s life had he surrendered? Shakespeare never tells us, but I do know of another King who lets the penitent traitors live.

So we, cast and crew and church, penitent traitors, sit and sing God’s praises in the Ulrey. We kiss the ground at Christ’s nail-pierced feet, and crown Him with many crowns.

From the Pens of Babes

“The Sibling Shell has been made one. Brother, behold your sister. Sister, behold your brother.”

That gorgeous sentence comes straight from the climax of a story I found in an old notebook this week. Based on the handwriting, I judge that my co-authoress and I must have been about eight. The literary masterpiece in question, aptly titled “The Sibling Shell,” stars thirteen-year-old orphaned twins Sean and Judy, separated by the latter’s totally irresponsible decision to run away to California. After thrilling (read: painful) accounts of a shark attack, a presumed death, and a botched news report, the pair finally find each other again when their magical shell necklaces connect. Shazam.

Other notebooks contained solo efforts by yours truly. I found several fairly nondescript chapters describing the life of a girl named Rose in Hawaii (think Lilo and Stitch without the dysfunction… or the Stitch). Yet another gem starred the tomboyish Princess Wincella in her quest to overthrow the wicked sorceress Rubella. For whatever reason, I actually found “Wincella” to be an appealing name at age nine. Fear not, future offspring. That phase is behind me.

At eleven and twelve, I had moved on to slightly more sophisticated concepts: a genie who lives in a mechanical pencil instead of a bottle (her name was “Constellatia”), a magical land called Renyah (no relation to Kenya), and a Cinderella retelling that I’m sure I thought was unique at the time. I found a few ideas that might actually be worth revisiting, but for the most part, my early efforts… stunk. Cringeworthy though these writings might have been, here’s the thing: I wrote. I wrote prolifically, constantly. Apparently undaunted by lack of knowledge or creativity, without second-guessing the quality of my work, I wrote. I wrote for the love of writing.

Nowadays I tend to wait around for the best idea or the perfect wording. After letting a concept ruminate for a day or two, I often decide it’s not good enough, not creative enough, not flowing easily enough… so I give it up. The spark of excitement the potential story offered quickly disappears.

And I hardly ever write.

So here’s my personal writing challenge for the new year: Write with the reckless abandon of an eight year old. Disregard the ruthless naysayer in your head; she hasn’t known you very long anyway. Write even when your idea is ridiculous, even when your prose is atrocious, even when every word you type is fighting to stay inside your head. Years later, you’ll probably find that old notebook and wince at your shaky stories– but you’ll have something to look back on.

(But to reduce the wincing, avoid names like “Wincella.” Trust me on this one.)